News of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes’ retirement could mean a major boost for Florida’s congressional delegation.
The California Republican’s absence from the House Ways & Means Committee leaves U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, as the senior-most Republican on the most powerful committee in the House. That means Buchanan would become chair in the event the GOP reclaims a majority in the chamber next fall.
“Best of luck to my friend and colleague, Devin Nunes,” Buchanan said. “He’s a champion for freedom and conservative values and will be greatly missed.”
Buchanan today serves as the No. 3 Republican, but U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican and the committee’s ranking member, announced earlier this year he would not seek another term. Immediately, Buchanan announced his intention to run against Nunes for chairmanship of the committee.
“As I indicated earlier this year, I will be running for the Ways and Means chairmanship, but my first priority is to help Republicans win back the U.S. House majority in 2022,” Buchanan said.
U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, a Nebraska Republican next in line in seniority, also expressed interest in running for chair.
At the time, it seemed significant Buchanan would make that intention clear, but the most likely path to the gavel seemed dependent on Nunes electing to chair the House Intelligence Committee.
But the fact Nunes also will not seek another term in 2022 propels Buchanan into the position of Republican frontrunner. Nunes will leave Congress to become CEO of a social media venture driven by former President Donald Trump.
“With Rep. Nunes’ retirement, Congressman Vern Buchanan becomes the highest ranking member and is now in an even stronger position to potentially become the next Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,” said Christian Ziegler, vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida and a former Buchanan staffer.
“It would be an incredible opportunity for our state and the Sarasota region, and frankly, considering Buchanan’s business background, I am convinced that there is not a more competent Member of Congress to head up our tax policy efforts when Republicans take back the U.S. House.”
The political climate portends well for a GOP takeover. Democrats hold just an eight-seat edge in the chamber today.
Tallahassee-based lobbyist Brian Ballard said Buchanan can play a major role for Republicans and the state.
“There is no more solid member of Republican leadership than Vern,“ he said.
Historic trends favor the party of out of power in the White House to pick up seats in midterm elections. Republicans, for example, netted 63 House seats in 2010 after Democratic former President Barack Obama’s election. Democrats picked up 41 seats in 2018 after the election of Republican President Trump. Both midterms resulted in a change of majority in the House, and the same could happen in 2022, the first midterm since Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency.
It’s still a maybe, but that means Buchanan could arguably be favored to chair Ways & Means over U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat and sitting chair.
There’s other challenges to Buchanan’s chances than the Democrats. He faces a primary challenge this year from Sarasota conservative activist Martin Hyde, who still sees the incumbent as vulnerable because of votes on gun control and other key issues.
“Voters in (Florida’s 16th Congressional District) are in my opinion more concerned with have a Representative who will never compromise their second amendment rights by voting with Democrats on HR 8 than someone who believes in the politics of seniority caused by a lack of term limits,” Hyde said. “The ways and means to defend one’s family are more important than being an establishment figure on the Ways & Means Committee.”
The Ways & Means Committee, responsible for tax policy and trade, generally holds regard as the most powerful committee in the House. No Representative from Florida ever won election as chair of the committee.
U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, a Tampa Democrat, briefly served as acting chair of the committee for a year in 1994, just before Republicans won control of the House and took over the following January. During Gibbons’ short stint, he helped save MacDill Air Force Base from budget cuts, the Tampa Bay Times reported in the late Congressman’s obituary.