WASHINGTON: The youngest senator on Capitol Hill, and one of the very few lawmakers who can wear a Bronze Star and a Ranger tab, has stepped right from his one-term House seat to chairmanship of one of the most important subcommittees on Capitol Hill.
That would be Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee. Cotton, 37, will serve with the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. An Army veteran, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Cotton brings firsthand combat knowledge and an understanding of the Army as an organization. His subcommittee will have to grapple with a wide range of Army issues, including relations between the active, National Guard and Reserve. Cotton also won a coveted spot on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Is he going to be a quiet study, watching from his new perch while he learns the ropes of the Senate and his new subcommittee? That seems unlikely, given that’s he’s already appeared on Meet The Press since the election.
Another relatively junior senator is taking the helm of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Fischer joined the Senate in 2013. Fischer has Strategic Command and Offut Air Force base in her state. Given StratCom’s key role in cyber and cyber as the most hot-button emerging threat around, this panel should be fun to watch, especially since her ranking member is the veteran senator, Bill Nelson of Florida. Nelson, a former astronaut, is a careful study of StratCom issues.
One of the intriguing assignments by new Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain is that of his close colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to lead the Personnel Subcommittee. Personnel may deal with the most politically contentious issues — pay and benefits — over the next few years. Graham, an powerful senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also boasts a consistently close relationship with McCain. His ranking member will be Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a first-term senator who has carved out a leading role for herself on Republican defense issues, is taking the reins of the the Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. Ayotte, who is perhaps best known as the Senate’s leading supporter of the A-10 Warthog, will probably use her new post to try and assure that the Air Force does not retire the A-10 any time soon. Her ranking member is Tim Kaine, former governor of Virginia. Kaine puts veterans issues near the top of his priority list.
One of the most obvious links between state interests and senators comes with the appointment of Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii as chairman and ranking member of the Seapower Subcommittee. Lots of water, lots of ships and a shipyard or two will provide both senators with a great deal to discuss. As the Ohio Replacement Program nears its real start, these two will bear close watching.
Finally, one of my favorite legislative panels — the Strategic Forces Subcommittee — will be led by Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Between DIA’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), the Missile Defense Agency’s extensive operations, Redstone Arsenal and the Army program executive office for missiles and space in Huntsville, Sessions has much to nurture in his state. He will be working with Joe Donnelly of Indiana, a Blue Dog who will be intriguing to watch in his new perch.