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 partys 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 committees 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 thats going to help me get re-elected? Rogers said. We think weve got people convinced that this is a program thats 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.
Weve had Members who are very skeptical and almost downright rude about showing up, but once theyve got through it, I do believe its 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 hes 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.
Hes very well-liked and has the full backing of leadership; otherwise, it wouldnt 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 Members 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.
Hes 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.