Tea Party Dilemma Post-Cantor: Insurgency or Leadership?Michael C. Bender and Derek Wallbank
Jockeying for the top two spots on House Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team heated up today as lawmakers returned to Washington after a long weekend in their home districts.
Two Republicans vying for the job of gathering votes for Boehner’s agenda have spent much of their time fighting -- and voting -- against that same legislation.
It’s a quandary the small-government Tea Party is facing after helping oust House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June 10 Virginia Republican primary, creating space on Boehner’s team. The vote to replace Cantor is scheduled for June 19.
Louisiana’s Steve Scalise and Indiana’s Marlin Stutzman are candidates for the No. 3 position of majority whip. They want the job even though they have both voted against legislation backed by the leadership, such as the agreement in October that lifted the partial U.S. government shutdown.
“Who are these guys going to be in office?” said Adam Brandon, vice president of FreedomWorks, a Washington group that advocates smaller government and contributes to Tea-Party-aligned candidates. “If you step out of line and go native, this movement has no problem dumping you and replacing you with someone else.”
The leading candidate for majority leader is the current whip, Kevin McCarthy of California, who is running against Idaho’s Raul Labrador. If McCarthy wins, another election will immediately be held for his job as whip, or chief vote-counter. If McCarthy loses, he’ll keep the No. 3 spot.
Labrador, in a letter to fellow House Republicans yesterday, asked lawmakers who’d backed McCarthy to reconsider.
“Promoting, by acclamation, a member of the very Washington leadership that has failed to bridge the divide with Republicans outside Washington struck me as exactly the wrong response,” Labrador wrote.
The third-ranking position requires “whipping” up support for the agenda set by Boehner. The Republican majority must find a way to replenish the highway trust fund as soon as July and pass spending bills for the 2015 fiscal year by Oct 1.
Republicans also haven’t settled on whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, set to expire on Sept. 30. Early in 2015, Congress will have to take up legislation related to the debt limit, which was suspended through March 15, 2015.
“It’s always a tap dance to be in leadership,” said former Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. “All of these leaders have to finesse it. And it turns out Cantor didn’t.”
A third candidate for the whip job, Illinois’s Peter Roskam, supported the spending agreement that ended the government shutdown. He is chief deputy whip, a position that he suggested gives him an edge over the political conflict that would face Scalise and Stutzman.
“The whip job is collaborative, and has to draw on relationships that transcend boundaries and groups,” Roskam wrote last week in a letter to his colleagues. “At this tumultuous time for our conference, I think it is more important to have the skills necessary to line up votes than to check a geographical box.”
Roskam, 52, was the only one of the three candidates for whip to vote for suspending the debt limit for a year, endorse a compromise House-Senate farm bill, and back reauthorization of the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
Each is claiming momentum, though support counts floated by each camp are, together, mathematically impossible.
Scalise allies claim about 100 committed supporters, while Roskam counts more than 90. Stutzman is said to have at least 50. That adds up to at least 240 -- and there are only 233 House Republicans.
The Pennsylvania delegation -- 13 Republicans, including some of the House’s most conservative and centrist members -- is mulling voting together as a bloc. The group is “overwhelmingly” for McCarthy, Representative Jim Gerlach told reporters today.
The Pennsylvania delegation was meeting with whip contenders before deciding which one to support.
The Tea Party, the limited-government political movement advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt, was responsible for Cantor’s loss to economics professor David Brat. Now, the movement’s supporters want one of their own in leadership after Cantor gives up his position on July 31 while serving the remainder of his seventh House term.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and one of the Tea Party’s leading voices, won’t back any of the whip candidates, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said yesterday.
Frazier said Cruz, whose deputy chief of staff Paul Teller was fired by Scalise in December, hasn’t scheduled meetings this week with House Republicans, to her knowledge.
During the 16-day shutdown, Cruz met with more than a dozen House Republicans at a Capitol Hill Tex-Mex restaurant to plot legislative strategy.
Stutzman, 37, was elected in 2010 when the Tea Party helped Republicans oust Democrats as the House majority. He was unsuccessful in a push to separate food-stamp policy from agriculture subsidies in the farm bill, which would have broken up a decades-old political alliance.
Stutzman is making his pitch for whip by positioning himself as his class’s liaison to leadership.
“In politics, we all know and recognize when the status quo has changed,” Stutzman wrote yesterday in a letter to fellow House Republicans. “When it does, we have to re-examine our course while remembering our core principles.”
Scalise, 48, elected in 2008, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of lawmakers supporting a small-government agenda. His New Orleans-area district was previously represented by now Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and U.S. Senator David Vitter.
Scalise supported a bill to roll back a flood-insurance law that would have raised rates for coastal residents. The measure was opposed by Tea Party-linked groups, such as Heritage Action for America.
Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and former study committee chairman, is backing Stutzman. FreedomWorks’s Brandon said Stutzman is more closely aligned with the Tea Party movement.
Scalise is the only one of the three whip candidates from a Southern state and one that has consistently voted for Republican presidential candidates in recent elections.
Roskam, the senior member of the three, won his first election to the House in 2006. He has a voting record more in line with McCarthy.
He served in the Illinois state Senate with President Barack Obama, and the president in 2010 called Roskam “an old friend of mine.”
Roskam said the president has abandoned his bipartisan principles. Acknowledging many Republicans’ concern about not having a member of the leadership team from a solidly Republican state, Roskam said he’d appoint a chief deputy whip from a “red state.”