CHARLESTON, S.C. -- U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond will no longer be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee next Congress, but will try to take over the Veterans Affairs Committee if Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., gives up the post, he says.
"I'm not asking anyone to resign," Mr. Thurmond, R-S.C, said.
But if rumors that Mr. Specter wants to give up his top slot prove true, Mr. Thurmond said he would be interested in the job.
Mr. Specter's office could not be reached for comment, and the Veterans' Affairs Committee was closed Wednesday and Thursday.
Mr. Thurmond, nearly 96, is the oldest and longest-serving senator in history. If his bid for Mr. Specter's seat is successful, he would add another first to his record book by becoming the oldest, longest-serving veterans' affairs chairman who also boasts stellar military credentials.
Mr. Thurmond won several medals for his service in Europe, which began when he landed in a glider in Normandy on D-Day. He also is a retired major general in the Army Reserve and has served on the veterans' panel since 1971.
Mr. Thurmond may have to convince GOP Senate leaders that he is up to the job. Questions about his abilities arose recently when the Wall Street Journal and National Review called on him to resign before outgoing Republican Gov. David Beasley leaves office.
Mr. Beasley was beaten by Democrat Jim Hodges, who will appoint a successor to Mr. Thurmond should the senator be unable to complete his term.
"That was ridiculous," Mr. Thurmond said. "I guess those two Yankee newspapers suggested that. Nobody in my state raised that point."
"If I reach a point where I can't give 100 percent to the job, I'll get out," he said. "I have four years left, and I intend to serve them."
Republicans will meet before the Christmas recess to determine committee assignments for the 106th Congress.
South Carolina has about 360,000 veterans -- a number that prompted U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to seek a seat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee when he was elected six years ago. U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., is the fourth-ranking Republican on the panel.