Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ future in the House got brighter Monday morning when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney named her as his House liaison, boosting her likely bid for the GOP Conference chairmanship in the next Congress, Republican officials said.
The Washington lawmaker, who is the House GOP Conference vice chairwoman and the highest-ranking elected woman in her party, will serve as Romney’s messenger to House Republicans as well as his eyes and ears in the House.
“It is a coordinating role to help ensure campaign updates are provided to House Members, but to also inform the campaign about what is going on in the House,” a Romney campaign spokeswoman said.
The announcement, however, was met by some sniping from the right and happened on a day when some conservatives were grousing about Romney’s selection of former Utah Gov. and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to head his presidential transition team.
“Mike Leavitt does not sound like the type of guy who will look Mitch McConnell in the eye in 2013 and demand, on behalf of President Romney, full and unconditional repeal of Obamacare,” RedState.com co-founder Erick Erickson wrote.
The McMorris Rodgers decision was an “odd” pick to some because Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) “has already been a de facto liaison to the Romney camp — and conservatives have been quite comfortable with that,” a senior GOP aide said. “It’ll help confirm in conservatives’ minds that the Romney operation will favor a leadership style of thinking and operating.”
Still, McMorris Rodgers is solidly conservative in her policy positions, with a 92 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, but she adopts a moderate tone in her rhetoric.
McMorris Rodgers joins Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.), Romney’s point man in the other chamber, who led his endorsement whip team during the presidential primary campaign.
J.T. Jezierski, Romney’s top staffer for legislative affairs, will interface with the two lawmakers on behalf of the campaign.
Rep. Tim Griffin, who worked with Jezierski and Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades at the Republican National Committee in the late 1990s, praised
McMorris Rodgers for having the respect and credibility needed for the job.
“Particularly in the last few months, after the convention, you just want to make sure that everybody’s singing off the same sheet of music,” the Arkansas Republican said.
Regarding her role conveying what’s happening in the House to the campaign, Griffin said, “You gotta have someone who can take the disparate voices of a Conference — we certainly have disparate voices on certain issues — and be able to synthesize that and communicate what people are feeling.”
McMorris Rodgers has emerged as a top surrogate on women’s issues as Democrats have ramped up attacks on the GOP over a contraceptive mandate issued by the Obama administration, disagreements over provisions of the Violence Against Women Act and a proposal by House Democrats to strengthen regulations against pay discrimination of women.
McMorris Rodgers has pushed back, mocking Democrats’ charge of a Republican “war on women” as a “war on reality” and defending GOP policies in press conferences and television interviews.
“She understands the impact of the economic challenges Americans face and the need to put our country on a better track,” Romney said in a statement.
Erin Matson, the action vice president of the National Organization for Women, offered partial praise for the pick, saying that as a feminist, she seeks women in 50 percent of leadership positions in both parties. But Matson ripped Romney’s policies on women’s issues, showing the pick would go only so far with the group.
Some Republicans say that while Romney’s announcement helps solidify McMorris Rodgers’ role as the public face of the House GOP on women’s issues, the pick is less likely to transform her rank in the pecking order of the GOP leadership team overnight.
“It’s nice recognition and helpful to her and Boston,” a Republican Member said, adding that McMorris Rodgers is unlikely to play a significantly larger role in decisions that are often made above her pay grade.
The Republican Member said Chaffetz will maintain his position as a key Romney ally. “Relationships still matter,” the source said. The Romney spokeswoman said Chaffetz is “an invaluable member of the team.”
Still, the backing of the party’s presidential nominee for a prominent role is a major boon to McMorris Rodgers and will aid her as she seeks a promotion in the next Congress.
A second GOP aide went so far as to call it “pretty much a done deal” that McMorris Rodgers would be elected Conference chairwoman. The source said top members of leadership had offered kind words to her since she told Roll Call in April she would likely be seeking the post.
However, a third Republican aide said Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the GOP Policy Committee, is likely to make a bid for the post as well. The Georgian, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, could gain support of the Conference’s right flank, the aide predicted, while McMorris Rodgers would get the strong backing of leadership.