Home

Roskam: Republicans Cannot Be Led Unless Changes Are Made

Roskam says the House GOP conference is at a crossroads. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While most members running for leadership are scrambling to win over as many members as possible, Rep. Peter Roskam reports he hasn't made a single phone call soliciting support.  

"There's nothing to run for right now," Roskam told CQ Roll Call in his Rayburn office Monday. "My theory is this: Unless we change as a conference, we can't be led." Of course, there is something to run for. Speaker John A. Boehner is resigning , and the conventional wisdom is that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will win that race , opening up a spot for a new majority leader, which could in turn be filled by the current majority whip, Steve Scalise.  

Roskam knows all that.  

But, he said, if Republicans don't change the disposition of the conference, "You run, and you win, and we're going to be right back in this situation in four months." Meaning conservatives could be pushing for a motion to vacate the chair, and establishment Republicans could be as frustrated as ever with their more right-leaning members.  

It's an interesting theory from a man running an interesting campaign — a campaign wherein he's not campaigning.  

The truth is no one seems to know if Roskam will run. Not even, it seems, Roskam.  

The five-term congressman has not announced a bid yet — though he isn't ruling it out. No matter where he lands, he's trying to influence the process. He may not have asked for anyone's support, but he is asking for a special conference meeting to discuss how Republicans move forward with leadership elections.  

That wish — which became more of a demand when Roskam collected more than 50 signatures over the weekend to get the special conference meeting — has already been granted. Republicans will discuss the pathway forward on Tuesday. And Roskam will likely have a chance to make his position known during that special conference meeting, though he told CQ Roll Call he doesn't have a specific proposal for how leadership should handle these elections.  

"I know how not to do it," he said. "The way not to do it is just have a leadership election quickly with no process."  

Roskam said Boehner's resignation should be a moment where the GOP conference pauses to assess where it is and to assess what leadership means, how Republicans define success.  

"Because nobody is satisfied," he said. "There's no voice out there today among House Republicans that says, 'You know what, I think things are fine.'"  

Roskam said Republicans need to establish a shared definition of success, one that incorporates rhetorical victories and political wins as well as legislative triumphs.  

"We need to be more provocative rhetorically," he said, so Republican voters feel like their representatives are "giving voice to how I'm feeling."  

That separation between Republican rhetoric on the stump and GOP action in Congress is part of the reason the House Freedom Caucus came into existence. HFC Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio likes to say the conservative group is about "doing what you said you were going to do."  

And while much of Roskam's support for a discussion on these leadership elections came from the HFC, part of his pitch during his unsuccessful race to be whip in June 2014 was to punish members who vote against leaders' priorities  — a position that is sure to give HFC members pause.  

On the question of punishing members for voting against rules, Roskam seemed more hesitant Monday, reporting that from fundraising to taking away subcommittee gavels, the goal is consensus, not punishment. "To mess with fundraising is probably criminal," he said. "I don't think any of those things become essential, or are part of a general discussion, if the membership itself begins to say, 'Let's do this differently, let's approach this differently, let's be more aggressive rhetorically.'"  

Roskam certainly thinks Republicans can get more aggressive rhetorically, particularly with the president. The former chief deputy whip said the GOP strategy seems to be to "presume that we're going to lose and reverse engineer from there." He compared it to a chess player looking 10 moves ahead, seeing a questionable position and just laying the king down.  

Roskam seems to recognize that some of the more ambitious Republican goals can sometimes border on quixotic, but he points back to the need for Republicans to acknowledge incremental wins and establish a shared definition of success. "Does it only mean things that get signed into law, or is the budget passing, for example, and framing the Medicare debate, is that a significant thing?"  

By slowing the process down, he thinks Republicans can better evaluate their goals. He wants the conference to answer what it expects its leaders to do. "We expect them to be on the road 200 days a year," Roskam said, asking if those sorts of fundraising demands weren't "a bit unrealistic."  

His idea is to ask members to step up more and allow leaders more time to "articulate a vision."  

For now, he just wants to make sure Republicans don't rush into these elections without pausing for a moment to consider how they got here.  

He says he's of the view — "and I think most people are" — that a better process will yield a better result. And that may be the message.  

"My ultimate goal is to change the disposition of the conference," he said.  

But if he were to run, who are the members he'd most appeal to?  

"I think a majority of our members came here to do something, not to be somebody," Roskam said.  

It's a nice line. One that will resonate with most members. But it's difficult not to hear it, even in Roskam's subtle Chicago accent, as if it weren't delivered in Frank Underwood's slow South Carolina drawl.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report. Related:

Tom Price Scores Influential Endorsements in Majority Leader Bid

See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.