The retirement of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Cong. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), expected to be announced Thursday, is a rather unpleasant surprise. McKeon, 65, has been in Congress for more than twenty years and in that time he has gained a well-justified reputation as one of the members who really understands the ins and outs of national defense.
McKeon has been one of the most forceful voices opposing the harm done to defense by President Obama’s cuts begun under former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and continued through sequestration. He has been something of a voice in the wilderness, though, because there is no appetite on Capitol Hill to face up to any of the severe problems that Obama’s cuts — totaling $1 trillion over ten years — are causing.
I’ve met and interviewed McKeon many times over the years. No matter if the issue were Afghanistan, Somali pirates, or satellite systems, he knew the subject well and didn’t have to rely on staff to answer tough questions. He will be missed.
His likely successor is Cong. Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Thornberry — whose succession is very likely but not certain — is a brilliant guy who has, as the committee vice chairman, been an effective partner for McKeon. His job will be doubly tough because Obama has Chuck Hagel — the weakest and least intellectual defense secretary in memory — in the Pentagon’s top job. It will be nothing short of impossible for Thornberry, if he becomes chairman, to do more than offer solutions to problems that Hagel will ignore and the Senate will bury.
Times are tough for those more interested in national security than in traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge. Good luck to Mac Thornberry. He’s going to need it.