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Roll Call

New House Whips Work in Tag Team

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Majority Whip-designate Kevin McCarthy (right) and his hand-picked deputy, Peter Roskam, have never served in the majority in the House, which the two men see as a benefit to their leadership in the 112th Congress.

Majority Whip-designate Kevin McCarthy has received a range of suggestions from his vote-counting predecessors, but there was one tip each of them repeated and he has taken it to heart.

“You need to know your count and you don’t share your count,” the California Republican said.

McCarthy served for two years as deputy to Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who will step up to Majority Leader in the next Congress.

McCarthy began to build his Whip team last week with the selection of Rep. Peter Roskam to serve as Chief Deputy Whip.

McCarthy said the Illinois Republican was the obvious choice; the two have worked closely together since they arrived in the House as a part of the small Republican class of 2006.

“One thing I found with the relationship with Cantor and I ... I think there can between no sunlight between the two of us,” he said in an interview with Roll Call. “Going into the majority ... you can’t have that time to say, ‘Oh, we are going to build this relationship as we go.’ You already have to have one, so you start right from the bat.”

While McCarthy has been a front man for several Republican projects during his tenure in the House, Roskam has worked largely behind the scenes.

Most recently, McCarthy led the America Speaking Out project to craft the GOP agenda. That effort resulted in the release of the “Pledge to America,” which party leaders unveiled in September. Roskam was vice chairman on that project.

During the interview with Roll Call last week, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) stopped by to congratulate both men and said of Roskam, “I’m glad we have a guy from Chicago that knows how to get votes by any means necessary.”

McCarthy and Roskam share backgrounds as state legislators and have reputations for being focused and creative forces within the House Republican Conference, and neither has ever served in the majority.

“There’s benefits to that,” Roskam said. “We also need to be listening to a lot of folks on what the majority is like, the level of scrutiny and all those sorts of things that come with it.”

Roskam, who won a tight race in 2006, said he and McCarthy are in a position to drive a conservative agenda that appeals to more than the Republican base.

“I think there is an opportunity to move a conservative agenda through the House in ways that is sort of an invitation for people to come alongside — it’s not about donkeys and elephants for a lot of Americans,” he said.

McCarthy said being the only Members at the leadership table who have never served in the majority gives them a different perspective and allows them to approach the Whip job in a slightly unconventional way.

For example, they said, they are willing to lose.

“We don’t come from the mindset ... that just because a bill is a Republican bill means it has to pass the floor. It’s more the quality of the bill,” McCarthy said. “I think it would be healthy if something got up there and it wasn’t a good idea if it was defeated on the floor.”

Asked if that tack may backfire since Whip teams are often judged by their successes, Roskam said, “Well, we are not talking about every bill not passing.”

McCarthy said the party will likely begin with issues that enjoy Conference-wide consensus such as limiting spending, job creation and repealing “ObamaCare.”

McCarthy acknowledged that some of the ideas in the pledge would make his job harder, such as breaking up large spending bills into smaller parts.

“If you put a big bill together, and you give everybody a little something, it’s bad for the country but easier to get passed,” he said. “If you break it up you get better substance and it means more work on our part. ... Yeah, but we asked for it.”

McCarthy said he plans to expand the Whip team for the 112th Congress to accommodate the larger GOP Conference, but he would not say how many Members or whom he plans to add.

Educating Members about issues on the floor will be a cornerstone of the McCarthy-Roskam Whip effort, they said.

“Part of it is preparing ahead of time, providing the Members with the information they need, the feedback they need, and the questions being answered so they are best prepared on the floor for the debate and for the position they want to take,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), a veteran member of the Whip team, predicted McCarthy and Roskam would use technology to help disseminate information.

“Kevin and Peter are highly organized, and my guess is they are going to use more technology both to inform us and to help give us information to our Whip members [about how] to get to 218,” he said.

Last year, Cantor and McCarthy launched the Whip team’s first BlackBerry and iPhone applications that included updated floor schedules, policy papers and videos. 

McCarthy said he has daily meetings with Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) to get his input.

“We talk, we brainstorm,” he said. “I’m picking his brain as Speaker as what is he envisioning.”

“I guess we probably meet three or more times a day,” he said.

In addition to Boehner and Cantor, McCarthy said he has sat down with former House Whips such as Sen.-elect Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss).

“They all give different perspectives, but kind of an overall [consensus was] whatever your team is, it has to be a team and you have to work together,” he said.

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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