House Republicans Set to Defy Obama Are Mostly White Men

’Caucus of No’ Pushes U.S. House Republican Majority Leaders
Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp, right, listens to a question from Theresa Mitchell, left, an Emporia State University communication and theater professor, challenging his views on fiscal issues, during a town hall meeting, on Jan. 9, 2013, at the Emporia, Kan., public library. Photographer: John Hanna/AP Photo

The core group of Republicans who are pushing the House toward a showdown with the White House over the debt ceiling and government spending is made up of 41 members -- all white men except for two.

More than half are from Southern states, their average re-election vote was 65 percent and most have served for fewer than five years in the House.

This small, homogeneous group of lawmakers is exercising out-sized influence as it bucks the House leadership, eschews compromises with President Barack Obama and exerts a rightward influence on a Republican conference of 234 members.

The chamber’s close partisan divide provides them the edge they need as House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio must operate with a winning vote margin of just 16 above a bare majority of 218 in the 435-member chamber.

Asked for the number of “consistent” like-minded Republicans, Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, one of the group, said in a July 24 interview that “there’s many more than 17. And why do I say 17? Because 17 is all you need to bring down a rule” and block legislation from reaching a final debate and vote on the House floor.

Bloomberg News determined the members of the caucus-of-no by analyzing voting patterns, including those in which House Republicans mostly bucked their leadership on at least five of eight key votes this year.

The analysis includes votes on retaining Boehner as speaker, funding for recovery operations following Super-storm Sandy, suspending the federal borrowing limit, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and a rewrite of farm programs.

NSA Vote

It includes a vote on an amendment curbing the administration’s ability to collect telephone records. It was defeated by 217-205, with Boehner leading 134 Republicans in opposition and casting his first ’no’ vote since becoming speaker 31 months ago.

The membership roster also includes Representatives Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who was elected to the House in May, and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve Southerland of Florida and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who participated in last month’s “Conversations with Conservatives” session, a monthly meeting often attended by the like-minded Republicans.

Nearly all are white. Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho is Hispanic and Representative Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma is Native American. Bachmann is the only female member.

Southern States

More than half of them are from the 11 Southern states that formed the old Confederacy. Five are from Georgia, including Representatives Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, who are opponents in a Senate race in which they’ll be brandishing their voting records among Republican primary-election voters.

There’s no political incentive for these members to trim their sails because they represent lopsidedly Republican districts, where primary elections determine the outcome more so than general elections. The list includes Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Ted Yoho of Florida and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who unseated Republican incumbents.

The 41 members won their most recent races with an average of 65 percent of the vote, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Just five won with less than 55 percent support. Obama lost all 41 districts in the 2012 election.

The members tend to be less politically experienced than the remainder of House Republicans. Twenty-three of the 41, or 56 percent, have fewer than five years of House service, compared with 53 percent for the rest of the House Republicans.

Outside Allies

These members tend to be favorites of interest groups favoring smaller government, including the Club for Growth, a Washington-based group financing challengers to Republican incumbents, and Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, which is headed by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a favorite of the anti-tax Tea Party.

And about half of them, 19 of 41, have already received campaign donations this year from the political action committee of Wichita-based Koch Industries Inc., controlled by billionaire energy executives Charles Koch and David Koch, who spent millions trying to defeat Obama in 2012.

These Republicans “defy expectations” because “in their eyes, principle trumps party loyalty,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California. “Therefore, more than most other speakers, Boehner has to be on the lookout for coalitions of negatives that can thwart what he wants to accomplish,” Pitney said in an e-mail.

Monthly Meeting

Some of the lawmakers participate in that Conversations with Conservatives, a monthly Capitol Hill gathering of small-government Republicans who field questions from reporters and other attendees. Chick-Fil-A lunches are served at the meetings, which are co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

Ten members participated in the July 24 event, underscoring the exclusive nature of the gatherings. It’s meant to draw a more select group from the small-government Republican Study Committee, the party’s largest caucus with more than 160 members.

The study committee’s membership “much overstates the number of voting consistent conservatives in the conference,” Huelskamp said.

Huelskamp said he and other like-minded Republicans sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, pressuring him to schedule a vote on an amendment by Representative Justin Amash of Michigan that would have curbed the National Security Agency’s ability to collect phone records. Amash’s amendment was approved for floor consideration, though the House voted it down, with most Republicans opposed.

Budget Fight

Amash, who’s serving his second term, and others are now pressing to withhold funding for the president’s 2010 Affordable Care Act as a condition of funding government operations when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“We should defund it, and I haven’t supported any appropriations bills that do fund it,” Amash said at the Conversations with Conservatives meeting.

Other Republicans, including Arizona Senator John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, have rejected that approach as an unreasonable strategy that plays into Obama’s hands. Republicans in Congress had a public approval rating of 26 percent in a Gallup poll taken June 20-24.

“The advantage goes with the president,” and voters usually “blame the Congress for not passing legislation to keep the government functioning,” McCain said July 29 on Bloomberg Television. “And I think that some of my newer colleagues may have not learned that lesson,” he said.

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