Updated, 3:05 p.m. | Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee will vote after the July 4 recess on whether to install two-term Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall as a “placeholder” chairman for the remainder of the year, with colleagues saying his selection is all but certain.
On Wednesday afternoon, on his way downstairs to the weekly RSC meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Woodall told CQ Roll Call that “the founders and past chairmen are going to recommend to the membership that I be the placeholder ’til elections happen in November, and the membership will have to ratify that.”
He said he expected the vote to take place at that very meeting, but former RSC chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ultimately told reporters after the huddle dispersed that due to procedural issues, the vote would be postponed. Jordan added that the delay had nothing to do with members' support for Woodall, which was substantial. Other members exiting the meeting confirmed that characterization of the situation. He also said that Woodall was chosen because of his role as chairman of the RSC Budget and Spending Task Force. There is precedent, Jordan explained, for ascending from that leadership slot within the organization to the one at the very top. That was true in his case, Jordan said, as in the case of another former RSC chairman, Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Woodall was anointed by the RSC founding members to replace current chairman and Majority-Whip-elect Steve Scalise of Louisiana, on the understanding that Woodall would not run for a full two-year term later this year.
"I'm just getting us from 'here' to 'there,'" Woodall said of what his role would be at the helm of the organization that considers itself the "independent research arm for House Republicans" and views its objective as advancing conservative policy through the chamber.
The current plan is for members to vote on Woodall's placement the week of Wednesday, July 9, with Woodall formally taking the reins the following week. Scalise doesn't officially become whip until Aug. 1, but he could use the time to prepare for the transition.
Meanwhile, anticipating that there would be a formal special election to succeed Scalise, at least four House Republicans were already preparing to run to fill out the remainder of the term and then run for a full term for the 114th Congress. They are Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Andy Harris of Maryland and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming.
Woodall said his interim chairmanship would give those candidates a "level playing field" come November.
"We have a lot of talented folks, and the only concern people had about going ahead and having the full election now is, this is a contemplative group. These folks want to be well-studied." Woodall explained later on Wednesday. "So rather than rush into an election process that might give one of the candidates an advantage over the other -- they'd be there for four months and be the presumptive chairman next year -- the founders thought, 'let's let those candidates have a full and robust debate, all on a level playing field, and get us into the next year on the right foot."
There was considerable confusion among members leading up to the announcement of Woodall's appointment on Wednesday. Though the RSC bylaws specifically permit a chairman to be put in place in the middle of a term should the seat become unexpectedly vacant, there are currently no written instructions on how to fill that vacant seat. The RSC founders were tasked with coming up with a solution to present to members for an up-or-down vote.
The organization's elders who now include only one member still in Congress — Sam Johnson of Texas — have considerable influence over the organization, including who gets to serve as chairman. Typically, they endorse one candidate, and anyone who wants to challenge him or her has to collect the required number of signatures to qualify for a run-off election. This was how Scalise was able to defeat Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who in 2012 had the founders' blessing. Hensarling also found himself as an insurgent candidate.
In a couple of weeks, RSC members are expected to have a chance to vote not just on Woodall's temporary chairman assignment, but also on a revision to the bylaws that would permit the founders to endorse any number of candidates they deem qualified to run the group.
"The group has gotten so big ... and there are so many talented leaders, now the thought is, 'why put the founders in the spot of having to pick winners and losers in a very Democratic institution like the RSC, when you have several talented people you believe in? Why shouldn't the founders be able to recommend more than one?'" Woodall explained.
Though the rules change could help prevent next month some of the prickly fights of the past, Woodall caveated that the rules change wouldn't be tantamount to the founders issuing a blank check endorsement for everyone vying for the job.
Under the current language being reviews, the founders would still, Woodall said, be able to use their discretion in making endorsements, and the candidates who fall short of that seal of approval would still have to gather signatures to get on an election ballot.