WASHINGTON – Rep. Devin Nunes may not be well-known outside of California. But his bid to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee would elevate the national profile of the Central Valley Republican.
Nunes hopes to take the committee gavel from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who plans to retire from Congress when his term ends at the beginning of next year. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) will choose the next chairman if Republicans hold on to their House majority in the fall elections.
"I'm really a policy guy," Nunes said outside the House chamber, explaining his interest in the job. "The intelligence world is the pinnacle of all policy."
Nunes faces competition for the chairmanship of the secretive panel, which oversees spy agencies. Two other Republicans with more seniority, Peter T. King of New York and Jeff Miller of Florida, have expressed interest in the post.
But seniority is just one of many criteria used in selecting a chair. Nunes has raised gobs of cash to help elect fellow Republicans, including contributing $565,000 from his campaign committee to the House GOP's campaign arm in the last election cycle and $250,000 in the current cycle.
If Nunes wins the job, he would become a leading voice in the debate over anti-terrorism policies, including controversial surveillance programs.
Rogers last year made 27 appearances on Sunday TV talk shows, according to a survey conducted by MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show."
If Nunes wins the job, it also would help California hold on to some of the clout it stands to lose in the next Congress.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is retiring when his term ends, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) must give up the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when the current session ends because of GOP term limits for its committee leaders.
The 40-year-old Nunes, of Tulare, has been an Intelligence Committee member since the beginning of 2011. He is best known for his fights with environmentalists over his efforts to bring more water to California's agriculture-producing Central Valley, where his district is located.
He made headlines during last year's 16-day government shutdown after describing GOP colleagues who were willing to let the government shut down over Obamacare as "lemmings with suicide vests."
Nunes called the Intelligence Committee chairmanship important for California because of the significance of global trade to the state's economy.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Former Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) was the last Californian to chair the House Intelligence Committee, leading it in 1989 and 1990.
The next chairman is likely to be chosen after the fall elections.