Cox leaves big shoes to fill, experts say

Whoever takes over the House's top homeland security position will have a tough job ahead.

President Bush announced today that he has nominated Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, to succeed William Donaldson as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Senate must approve Cox's nomination.

No one has been tapped as Cox's potential replacement, but several strong contenders are apparent, said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, would be a great choice, he said. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) would be another, but he may not want it because he’s in line to become the next House Judiciary Committee chairman, Carafano said.

The next-most senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), may not want to leave his post as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Carafano said.

Cox's mix of political clout and familiarity with complex technical issues will make him hard to replace, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan security think tank.

Whoever replaces Cox will face significant challenges, both experts agree. The new chair will have to shepherd the budget reauthorization and first-responder bills through discussions with the Senate, Carafano said. The next chair will also need to support the review of DHS operations, which DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is scheduled to finish soon, he said.

The new chair will also have to focus on improving DHS management and oversight, Pike said. That person will have to help the department better blend its 22 constituent agencies, he said. Right now, "it's still a lot of spare parts flying in formation," he said.

Cox has done an excellent job as the committee's first chairman, Carafano said. Cox set priorities effectively, encouraged bipartisan cooperation with Democrats and worked well with the Senate, he said.

Two of Cox's greatest accomplishments were getting the House to pass both a fiscal 2006 authorization bill for the Homeland Security Department and a first-responder bill, Carafano said.

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