Not many Members of Congress boast a framed pair of handcuffs on their wall. But in Rep. Mike Rogers’ Capitol Hill office, the Michigan Republican proudly displays a silver-colored set from one of his successful cases as an FBI agent.
Now in this fifth term, Rogers has been tasked with policing another crew. As incumbent retention chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rogers is charged with ensuring every Member in his party’s diminished ranks returns next Congress.
Rogers began his mission in February, when he started one-on-one meetings with more than 70 of his most vulnerable colleagues to set up individualized campaign goals. Many of the Members would act defensive at first, and Rogers said he often had to alleviate their fears about the committee’s new “Patriot— program — an incumbent retention plan that is modeled after Democrats’ successful “Frontline— program.
“We worked through all the issues of Is this a program that will tell me what to do?’ or Is this a program that’s going to help me get re-elected?’— Rogers said. “We think we’ve got people convinced that this is a program that’s going to get me re-elected.—
House Republicans and their aides say the Patriot program meetings are far from an interrogation, but Rogers acknowledged with a hearty chuckle that these one-on-one sessions could be reminiscent of his previous career in law enforcement.
“We’ve had Members who are very skeptical and almost downright rude about showing up, but once they’ve got through it, I do believe it’s changed their opinion about what it is,— Rogers said in a recent interview.
According to one senior House Republican leadership aide, initial Member reaction has been varied.
“Different Members respond differently,— said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Nobody likes being told they have areas they have to improve upon.—
Accordingly, Rogers’ approach also varies from Member to Member.
“He treats some with kid gloves, and he can be more forceful with others,— the aide said. “It all depends who he’s talking to.—
It also helps that Rogers has endeared himself to Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), all of whom fully back him and the program. According to a senior NRCC official, Rogers meets weekly with Boehner, Sessions and Cantor to discuss incumbent retention.
“He’s very well-liked and has the full backing of leadership; otherwise, it wouldn’t work,— another Senior GOP aide said.
The Patriot program is a change from the previous cycle, when House Republicans did not have an organized incumbent retention regimen. Rogers meets with NRCC Incumbent Retention Director Bob Honold several times a week. He keeps tabs on every Member’s progress, including political matters such as their call time, volunteer recruitment and local press.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), a Patriot member, has known Rogers since they served together in the state Senate.
“He’s very straightforward,— McCotter said. “You rarely miss his meaning.—
McCotter recalled Rogers’ first race in 2000, when the 8th district Congressman won by a slim 111-vote margin. His district was redrawn the next year to be more favorable to Republicans, and he has easily won re-election ever since.
McCotter said it is helpful that Rogers has “actually walked the walk— in terms of enduring a competitive race. It’s an experience that might help McCotter, whom House Democrats have indicated they plan to target in 2010.
Rogers also aids the most vulnerable caucus Members with fundraising, including setting up meet-and-greets with political action committees. A Republican lobbyist familiar with Rogers called him aggressive and said he had a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to working with Members.
“He won’t take a lot of crap and bullshit from Members who are like, Oh, I’m doing all the right things,’— the Republican lobbyist said. “I think he’ll hold them to task to make sure they are doing the right thing.—
One senior GOP operative remarked that donors like Rogers because of his charisma and his ability to understand how issues play differently in various parts of the country.
“He communicates well and knows how politics meets policy,— the operative said. “Many Members are in denial or are tone deaf on this.—
Those close to him also believe donors like him because he has long been viewed as having higher ambitions and he could run for a House leadership position, such as NRCC chairman, or statewide in Michigan someday. But Rogers denied that he sees his NRCC role as a stepping stone to higher office.
Like McCotter, Rep. Dave Reichert (Wash.) is one of the NRCC’s first participating members in the Patriot program. After surviving two tough cycles in a Democratic-leaning district, Reichert said he quickly signed up for the program when he met with Rogers earlier this year. A former county sheriff made famous for catching the Green River killer, Reichert said Rogers’ law enforcement background helped prepare him for his current role and to face any situation.
“In my case, I’ve had my throat cut with a butcher knife, I’ve had all kinds of experiences where my life has been threatened, I’ve been spit on, I’ve been called every dirty name in the book, and I imagine Mike has too,— Reichert said. “So when people up here get upset with you or get irritated with you or the pressure gets intense, you sort of fall into this calm demeanor cop thing, where OK, just everybody take a deep breath and calm down for a minute and let’s talk about this. Now what are the facts?’—
The framed handcuffs on Rogers’ wall were used to arrest the president of the town of Cicero, Ill., and handful of her corrupt mob members for stealing millions from the town. As an FBI agent, Rogers helped build the case against them — including taking surveillance photos of the culprits at their Wisconsin home from a faux picnic set up across the lake. Rogers went to testify in the case when he was state Senator.
Chuck Yob, a former Republican National Committeeman from Michigan, has known Rogers since he ran for the state Senate in 1994. He also described Rogers as aggressive but said he was well-liked by his Senate colleagues in Michigan.
“Of course some people don’t like aggressive people, so you’ll always have that,— Yob said. “But I think he’s a very positive guy here among his cohorts.—