Daily News

Retirements and term limits, not an electoral wave, push GOP lawmakers from cyber-focused posts

September 18, 2018

Key House Republicans on cybersecurity issues will be leaving their posts atop various panels after this year, but that's due to term limits on chairmanships and retirements rather than a possible electoral wave that could put Democrats in charge of the chamber.

Polling and independent analyses suggest Democrats have a strong chance of winning the House in November, which would empower a new crop of Democratic chairmen.

A Democratic takeover of the Senate appears less likely at this stage, according to the polls and analyses, and the most prominent players on cyber issues to face serious challenges are both Democrats: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Senate Commerce ranking member Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Both trail slightly in recent aggregations of polling, according to RealClearPolitics.com. The independent “Cook Political Report” and “Inside Politics with Nathan L. Gonzales” both rate the two races as “tossups.”

But in the House, the focus is on the possibility of a net 24-seat pickup by Democrats to gain the majority, which -- if it comes -- would be cobbled together from victories in open seats and districts where President Trump performs poorly in polls.

It doesn't appear at this stage that many key incumbent Republicans scheduled to remain in their committee leadership spots next year -- either as chair or, if in the minority, as ranking member -- are imminently at risk of losing their seats.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), a central player in the controversy over investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 election, is a target Democrats would love to take down but neither Cook nor Gonzales have him on the endangered list.

House Oversight and Government Reform IT subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-TX), also a Homeland Security Committee member who is very active on cyber issues, is in the “tilt” or “lean” Republican categories according to the two services, indicating he still faces a significant re-election challenge. But a New York Times/Siena poll released last week had Hurd up 51-43 percent over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones.

On the other hand, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who chairs the House Science research and technology subcommittee, is in a race that either “tilts” (Gonzales) or “leans” (Cook) toward Democrat Jennifer Wexton.

Cook and Gonzales also both find House Small Business Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH), who has worked on cyber issues during his term, leading Democrat Aftab Pureval but in a close race.

Other key players on cyber issues like Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are expected to keep their positions as the top Republicans on those panels next year, either as chair or ranking member.

Still, independently of election results, other key positions will change hands next year.

For instance, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) is term-limited out of that position after this year. Other key chairmen are retiring, including Financial Services Chairmen Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), whose panel last week passed consumer breach-notice legislation; Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), who has pushed cyber deterrence and diplomacy bills; and Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who has been active on a wide variety of cyber issues, including efforts to remove Kaspersky products from federal computer systems.

Polling and race ratings can change significantly in the lead-up to election day on Nov. 6, so all of these analyses are subject to change. -- Charlie Mitchell (cmitchell@iwpnews.com)