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Cole Pressured on NRCC Staff

Boehner Wants Big Changes

Frustration among House Republicans over sluggish fundraising, staff strife and other internal operations at the National Republican Congressional Committee came to a head this month — with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanding that changes be made.

The tension reached a boiling point in early September during a meeting between GOP leaders and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) that resulted in Cole threatening to resign from his post.

Boehner led the meeting with Cole, according to knowledgeable sources. Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) were present as well, though one source familiar with the meeting said “they were kind of like potted plants” in describing their level of involvement.

Those sources said that during the heated meeting Boehner expressed concern about the NRCC’s financial state and effectiveness, among other things, and demanded that Cole make top-level staff changes at the committee. The frustration was specifically directed at NRCC Executive Director Pete Kirkham and Political Director Terry Carmack.

Cole, whom sources described as defensive and taken aback by the meeting and its tone, told Boehner that he would resign his post before he would fire top staff, and as of yet no such staff changes have been made.

Kirkham is Cole’s former personal office chief of staff and Carmack was chief of staff to then-Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.). Privately, concerns have circulated for some months within the Conference that perhaps both men are not the best fit for the committee leadership jobs.

“I think there’s just a general lack of confidence there,” said one Republican aide, referring to feelings among some in the GOP Conference toward the NRCC operation as a whole.

Other sources described an internal power struggle within the committee, with the mixed loyalties of some staffers the crux of the issue.

After the exchange with his fellow leaders, Cole held a staff meeting at the NRCC where he basically said if anyone working there had a problem they could leave or at the very least should come forward and express their concerns to him directly instead of having those complaints filtered through leadership.

Spokespersons for both Boehner and the NRCC sought to portray the leadership meeting as just another constructive step in reaching their shared goal of regaining the House majority in 2008.

“Our leaders have very frank and candid conversations about the strategies we’re implementing to earn back the majority in 2008, so I’d be concerned if they never had the kind of differing opinions that committed individuals encounter when they’re aggressively pursuing a common goal,” said Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy. “It happens, it’s a good thing and the leadership team is every bit as committed to helping Mr. Cole and the NRCC succeed today as it was in January.”

NRCC Communications Director Jessica Boulanger said Cole and Boehner meet regularly and that their private conversations should remain behind closed doors.

“Cole respects his input, values the give-and-take they share and is looking forward to working together to make sure John Boehner becomes the next Speaker of the House,” Boulanger said.

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