The long-awaited decisions on House committee leadership positions in the next Congress -- including the coveted Energy and Commerce chairman's seat -- won't come until December, Republicans said last night.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the current ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee who is pushing to move into the chairman's seat despite GOP term limit rules, said a decision on the four-way race for the chairman's gavel won't be made until after Thanksgiving.
And Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), a strong contender to take over one of the committee's subpanels, said he expects the broader chairmanship to be resolved on Dec. 2. Subcommittee chairmen likely would be revealed later that day or the following day.
Barton is seeking a waiver of GOP rules that limit members to three consecutive terms in leadership positions on committees. Barton has served one term as chairman of Energy and Commerce and the past two terms as ranking member.
"I've been chairman one term, and I want to be chairman another term," he told reporters in the Capitol last night. And he says his time as ranking member should not count against him.
But Republican leaders beg to differ. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Republican transition team, says a waiver is the only potential way forward for Barton to take the gavel. Walden said on C-SPAN last week that he does not expect the party to alter its term limit rules, and he does not buy into the argument that time spent in the minority should not count toward the six-year term limit.
"The rules of the conference, everyone knew what they were when we got to this point -- six years," Walden said last week. "I would be surprised if the conference votes to change that."
But Barton is holding out hope. He said he has met with Walden and presumptive Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and that they have given him hope there is a path forward.
"There's a task force on rules changes, and that task force is not going to make any recommended changes until December," Barton said. "But we are going to have a conference, and there's going to be some listening sessions at the end of this week, and that's something I talked with the speaker-to-be about, and he says that there are a number of good suggestions out there, and I should go forward with whichever one I think's the best shot to get adopted by the conference."
But Barton conceded he had not gotten the nod from leadership in his bid to be chairman.
Boehner "is obviously very interested in picking good committee chairmen and thinks I would be a good chairman, but he has not committed to support me," Barton said. "He says it's going to be an open process in the steering committee, and he thinks the steering committee will pick the best person, which I think will be me."
Barton is in a four-way race for the gavel with Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the favorite to win the seat; John Shimkus (R-Ill.); and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).
Upton and Shimkus have stepped up their lobbying for the spot in recent days with both circulating letters to fellow Republicans touting their credentials.
But Barton is not bad-mouthing his colleagues. "There are other people who want to be chairman, too. They're my friends. They're going to be my friends after this is over," Barton said. "This is a competition, and they have every right to put their best foot forward. I'll put my best foot forward, and I'll leave it to the will of the steering committee and the conference to pick the best person."
Reporter Elana Schor contributed.