The race between McMorris Rodgers, above, and Price for conference chairman is the most competitive GOP House leadership contest.
The final push to secure a spot in House GOP leadership begins today, and the results of a few top-of-the-ballot elections promise to have a ripple effect that could shift the results of committee elections still weeks away.
Members have been making their cases for months, but the all-out buttonholing will increase as members return to Capitol Hill this week, and the stakes are high. At a Wednesday morning conference meeting, leadership candidates will address their colleagues in person to lay out their visions.
An afternoon meeting will decide the races, as members will be asked to cast votes on who will lead them in the 113th Congress, a session in which Republicans will have to pivot from a largely losing election season to putting their imprint on the legislative agenda.
The following day, the conservative Republican Study Committee will choose its next leader, an election that could decide whether the group will continue its adversarial relationship with leadership or try to work with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. Meanwhile, members will split off by region and class to elect their representatives to the Republican Steering Committee, which in turn will select committee chairmen after Thanksgiving.
And far from each race occurring in a vacuum, the results of each set of elections will certainly affect who wins out in the next.
The most competitive race is for GOP conference chairman. Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is facing off against Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.
The close race plays out in a post-election dynamic rife with Republican soul-searching. Several sources stressed the importance of electing a woman to a prominent spot in GOP leadership, citing the gender gap in last week’s election results.
Other members of the conference, however, feel that the election showed that Republicans should elect candidates such as Price, a former Republican Study Committee chairman, who have proved that they will fight, sometimes even against their own leadership, for conservative values.
“Half of them think this is a mandate to put a woman in charge,” a GOP leadership aide said. “The other half think this is a mandate to put a conservative in charge.”
Both candidates have been making their case to their colleagues. Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Indiana Gov.-elect Mike Pence, both former RSC chairmen, sent a letter to members touting Price. The candidate also cut a promotional video posted on RedState.com with noted conservative columnist Erick Erickson’s endorsement. Price, according to spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael, has been focusing on “one-on-one conversations” with members to whip support.
McMorris Rodgers made a promotional video as well, and she and her allies have been working from a whip list, ranking members from 1, indicating sure support, to 5, who are lost causes. The candidate has been making calls particularly to members ranked 2 or 3 to try to move them up a notch, according to sources with knowledge of her whip operation.
The results of the conference chairmanship election could have downballot effects, sources said, especially on the RSC race, which will be decided when RSC members cast ballots Thursday afternoon.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana is facing off against Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia to become RSC chairman. Scalise said he wants to tamp down the Republican infighting that has characterized the last two years. Though Graves declined to be interviewed, knowledgeable sources said he would be more likely to encourage the RSC to challenge leadership positions if they are not perceived to be conservative enough.
If Price, whom RSC insiders see as one of their own, makes it to the upper echelons of leadership, there could be less of a push to have a rabble-rousing RSC. On the other hand, if McMorris Rodgers, a reliable vote for leadership’s priorities, prevails, the RSC might be more likely to continue its conservative crusade outside the bounds of leadership.
Gender politics is also playing a role in the race to hold the Homeland Security Committee gavel. Rep. Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., would be the only woman to chair a House committee in the 113th Congress, and the desire to have a woman in that seat could intensify if Price defeats McMorris Rodgers. The counterargument is that Miller would be the fourth Michigander to chair a committee. She is facing off against Reps. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas. Miller said both arguments get on her nerves.
“Guess what? Obviously I’m a woman, and I’m from Michigan. Not much I can do about those things,” she said. “But on the other hand, I am asking the steering committee to consider me on my merits.”
Boehner could use his authority to nominate the heads of certain committees, such as Ethics or House Administration, to ensure a woman heads a panel. A few of the roughly three dozen spots on the Republican Steering Committee remain up for grabs as well. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, the regional representative of Indiana and his home state of Ohio, is retiring, and several sources said Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi, a close Boehner ally, is vying to replace him.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.