When it came time to nominate the Speaker for the 113th Congress Wednesday, a sole lawmaker rose to nominate a dark-horse candidate.
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas suggested that former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., — who could technically still serve because the Speaker does not have to be a sitting member of Congress — return to the post.
No one seconded the nomination.
The silence from the Republican Conference at the suggestion that someone else should occupy the post represents the firm grip Speaker John A. Boehner has on his position.
Though he will surely face opposition from Democrats and some in his own conference as major issues such as tax increases, spending cuts, immigration and health care are litigated, the Ohio Republican has a steady leadership table from which to draw support.
Even Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who as recently as one year ago was the subject of speculation that he would challenge Boehner for the top slot, has now fallen in line. He rose to nominate Boehner, saying that he has been a “tremendous mentor,” according to a source in the meeting.
Cantor, in turn, was nominated by Boehner and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California was nominated unopposed, solidifying the top three Republican leadership slots.
From there, the victories for leadership kept on coming.
Current GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who was tacitly endorsed by Boehner and other leaders, faced an upstart challenge from Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia to become the next chairman of the Republican Conference.
It was the most competitive leadership race, and the battle was cast as one for influence over the conference, particularly when 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin wrote a letter to colleagues earlier this week endorsing Price. Ryan nominated Price in the Wednesday meeting.
In the end, McMorris Rodgers was able to ward off Price in what most members called a dead-heat contest, although the official vote tally was not released.
Despite the fact that the race simply decided the fourth-ranking GOP leadership slot in one half of one third of the federal government, members and onlookers did not take it lightly.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who had been whipping support for McMorris Rodgers’ campaign, said many Republicans believed that the race is a reflection of which lessons the party learned from the recent elections, namely should it diversify its leadership ranks, in this case with a high-ranking woman, or should it continue fighting, sometimes among itself, for conservative values?
“Each side reads larger implications for the conference,” Cole said. “People are looking at whether or not we learned the right lessons from the losses in the general election.”
Indeed, for some members, the choice was between someone perceived to be a moderate Republican, McMorris Rodgers, and who would be a steady vote for leadership’s priorities, or Price, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee and a member not afraid to buck leadership when a more conservative option presents itself.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who periodically hosts a luncheon called “Conversations with Conservatives,” said that played into his decision to support Price.
“I think he’s more conservative, from what I’ve seen,” the Kansan said. “I don’t think you pick up a single presidential vote in the next election by the gender of someone you put in there. It’s about vision, and Tom does a great job articulating the vision.”
But for those members who read the drubbing among the female demographic at the polls on Election Day as a call to include more women in leadership, the message was received.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas won the contest to take over for McMorris Rodgers as conference vice chairwoman, meaning there are now more women in elected GOP leadership than ever. Jenkins defeated freshman Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama in the close race. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina won the conference secretary race over Rep. Jeff Denham of California.
McMorris Rodgers touted the group’s diversity in an interview following the Wednesday election.
“The Republican party has a great record when it comes to women and promoting issues that are important to woman,” she said. “We’re going to continue to champion that.”
Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina was re-elected to be the representative to leadership from the class of 2010, making him the only African-American in GOP leadership.
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon was elected to be the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Boehner announced that outgoing NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas would be appointed to helm the Rules Committee next year.
Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma was chosen as the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. All ran unopposed.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.