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Times Record: Thornberry officially House Armed Services Committee chairman

By: John Ingle, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

Washington, January 6, 2015
Rep. Mac Thornberry was sworn in Tuesday as the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, becoming the first Texan to lead the committee.

The 13th Congressional District representative and other committee chairmen were sworn in by Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner during a ceremony in the House chambers. The Clarendon, Texas, native has been on the committee since he was elected in 1994.

Thornberry said by telephone he will spend the next couple of weeks organizing the committee and subcommittees and then begin bringing members up to date on issues such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the latest antics of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine and North Korean cyber attacks.

“We’re going to spend a fair amount of time on the committee talking about the national security environment we face,” he said. “Before we jump ahead to specific budgets and so forth, we need to understand the threats that we’re facing.”

Thornberry said House Republicans will go on a planning retreat toward the end of next week to prioritize the agenda including funding of the military and avoiding another looming sequestration that could slash the Defense Department’s budget even more.

“I want to help make sure that everybody understands what sequestration is doing to the military,” he said. “It’s one of the big challenges. The Armed Services Committee on its own can’t solve it. It’s going to have to be both the House and the Senate working even with the president to do it.”

Another important item Thornberry said he’d work on as committee chairman is reforming defense acquisition and spending. He described the DOD as “big and complex,” and the committee needs to make sure the country is getting more value out of every dollar put toward defense spending.

There are some Democrats in the House who will go along with bolstering the military because they understand the dangers the United States face, Thornberry said. But, there are some who are “anti-military,” adding that the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party still exists.

“The big question is how you do it,” he said. “That’s really where you get into some differences of opinion. But I think given what we’ve seen so far under sequestration, there is bipartisan support for fixing sequestration.”

Thornberry has 20 years of experience on the Armed Services Committee, making the transition to the committee leadership position a little easier. But, he said, the world in which we live is different and more difficult because of the variety of threats the country faces.

Being the chairman does have its nuances, he said, that will make his schedule somewhat busier with travel and visiting with foreign ambassadors, defense ministers and the like. Thornberry said it’s up to him to set the agenda and be the House’s spokesman on defense issues.

While the opportunity exists to get a host of issues taken care of with a Republican-led Congress, the congressman said not to expect much cooperation from the White House.

“He’s always given speeches that say (he’ll cooperate),” Thornberry said of President Barack Obama. “But when push comes to shove, basically he has not been willing to cooperate.”