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A boisterous Wednesday meeting of the Republican Study Committee became heated over the recent removal of four rebellious Republicans from plum committees, culminating in a key lawmaker explaining it wasn’t voting records but an “obstinate factor” that contributed to the ousters.
The meeting was also marred by confusion about whether Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was making an appearance to explain the committee removals.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who was booted from a coveted spot on the House Budget Committee and also lost his position on the Agriculture Committee, told reporters that McCarthy was going to address the group. RSC Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio told the group the whip would be there to explain whether a secret vote scorecard had been used to weigh whether to kick members off committees. But a GOP leadership aide said McCarthy was never scheduled to attend.
That led to Jordan telling the group that McCarthy had, in fact, bailed out at the last minute to tend to a family emergency, said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, who was at the meeting.
“That was the announcement Jim made, that [McCarthy] was going to be here to tell us whether or not there was scorecard and what it meant if there is one and then some things came up at the last minute,” he said. “My understanding is a family matter came up and he’s leaving to go back home.”
McCarthy was still in town when the House voted, hours after the RSC meeting.
That part of the RSC meeting was treated as sensitive, and staffers were asked to leave the room as the “executive session” to discuss the removal of the four lawmakers from their committee slots began.
The conversation became heated, with lawmakers discussing how voting records and participation in National Republican Congressional Committee fundraising “across the street” played in the decisions.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, a staunch conservative who sits on the Republican Steering Committee that made the decision to remove the lawmakers, said he became increasingly angry while listening to the discussion and ended up providing the most detailed defense yet for the decisions.
“I couldn’t help but kind of speak up for the steering committee and the leadership,” he told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview after the meeting.
“What I tried to explain to them was, it didn’t have anything to do with your voting record, a scorecard, your work across the street or anything else. It had to do with your ability to work within the system and to try to work. And to be, I guess, constructive in things. And I said, ‘I guess you could say it was an asshole factor,’” Westmoreland said. “Now I wasn’t calling any member in particular an asshole, I was just trying to describe an environment where some people that you’re trying to work with, they just don’t want to work within the system.”
Westmoreland later expressed regret for using that language, saying, “Maybe I should have used ‘obstinate factor.’”
The steering committee reviewed a spreadsheet listing how members voted on key bills. But Westmoreland said that information was not a deciding, or even important, part of the consideration.
“Look, if we kicked people off of committees based on the information that was given, I wouldn’t be on an ‘A’ committee. There are several people in the steering committee that wouldn’t be on ‘A’ committees,” Westmoreland said.
He also praised Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina specifically. “I love Walter Jones; he’s one of the nicest, most sincere, honest people up here,” Westmoreland said.
Jones, the lone moderate among the four lawmakers removed from their committee assignments, came under fire from leadership for criticizing the GOP from the left.
Indeed, Fleming said the argument is convincing and that it is becoming more apparent that the members were removed for actions that constituted “friendly fire,” or directing rhetorical barbs at members of their own party.
“There have been several members to stand up and say, ‘You know, I kind of agree with leadership. You said some things that was a problem for me,’” he said. “There have been members and leadership who feel that it’s one thing to vote and even message what you feel, but don’t hurt your colleagues and don’t hurt your leadership in doing that. In other words, don’t go out and use other members who are supposed to be part of your army and make them the target of your rhetoric as well.”