The House Armed Services Committee next year will be shaped not only by which members win reelection this week, but also by the members who won’t return and a potential ally in the White House.
Eleven members of the 56-person panel either lost reelection or decided not to seek another term. Two Democrats, Reps. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, were voted out of office on Election Day. Most other members who sought reelection in the Nov. 3 general contest won their races, with a few results still unclear at press time.
Democrats are expected to retain control of the House, though officials were counting ballots in many races as of Nov. 4.
Republicans will see the most turnover on the committee. Seven will not return for the 117th Congress that begins in January, including Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). Voters elected Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s former White House doctor and nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, to Thornberry’s vacant seat.
GOP candidates are expected to hold the remaining six districts as well. They were represented by Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah, Mike Conaway of Texas, Paul Cook of California, Bradley Byrne of Alabama, Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, and Paul Mitchell of Michigan.
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and former presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) decided not to defend their House seats. Democrats won elections to replace them in both districts.
HASC leadership will remain largely intact. Of those currently running the panel and its subcommittees, only Thornberry will not come back.
Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) handily won his 13th term in Congress. He will now focus on either crafting military priorities to share with a Democratic White House, or he may continue to be a liberal voice on defense as Republicans continue to control the presidency and Senate. It’s still possible the Senate could turn blue or see a 50-50 split next year, though that prospect is dimming.
If Democrats take the White House, HASC’s progressive wing would likely try to push former Vice President Joe Biden’s administration farther to the left with defense spending cuts and reforms to how and where U.S. military might is used.
Republicans had picked up five House seats as of press time Nov. 4, slightly growing their clout in the lower chamber. A shrinking Democratic majority could spur lawmakers on the left to reach across the aisle more often, so they can reach consensus on hot-button issues rather than risk defectors during important votes.
Even with the turnover this week’s election results will bring, HASC policymaking is unlikely to deviate much from the past two years under Democratic rule. Smith has tempered expectations of sweeping changes to the panel’s approach if Biden wins the presidency.
While progressive Democrats push for as much as a 20 percent cut to the defense budget, Smith argues any spending overhaul must be justified by a revamped national security policy. He believes total defense spending could hover around $720 billion to $740 billion in the coming years—either flat funding or a slight cut.
“From what Vice President Biden has said, I think we are closely aligned on how much to spend on defense and the fact the nuclear enterprise is something we can probably spend less on and still meet our needs, and thus free up money to do other things. I think there’ll be good synergy there,” Smith told Defense News.