Politics

A Guide to House Leadership, Committee, Caucus Elections

Races will place at least 17 members in new positions of power

The race for chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee will be between Texas Rep. Roger Williams and Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers. (File photos by Bill Clark/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

While much speculation over House leadership changes in the 115th Congress is focused on a contentious speaker’s election that may never materialize, a long series of intraparty leadership, committee and caucus races guarantee significant turnover in top House posts next year.   

Retirements, term limits and lawmakers departing for other jobs mean that at least 17 prominent roles, and likely more, will change hands. Elections to determine those new influencers are set to begin during the lame-duck session that opens the week after Election Day.

Up first are the party leadership elections. The House Republican Conference is scheduled to hold its closed-door elections for speaker (assuming the party keeps its majority), leader, whip, conference chair, vice chair, secretary and policy committee chair on Nov. 15. Winners only need to earn a simple majority of the votes cast. Most of the conference’s picks are guaranteed to be the leaders for the next Congress, but the speaker faces the additional hurdle of a floor vote in January that requires a majority of the entire House, or 218 ayes.

The Democratic Caucus will hold its leadership elections sometime during freshman orientation in November — either the week after the election or the week after Thanksgiving.

Here’s a look at the posts that are or could be contested:

Party Leadership

National Republican Congressional Committee Chair

This will probably be one of the more high-profile leadership races, with Reps. Steve Stivers of Ohio and Roger Williams of Texas competing to head the House Republicans’ campaign arm during a midterm cycle in which the GOP will be looking to make up for expected losses from the 2016 election. The winner will succeed Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, who is seeking the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, assuming Republicans keep control of the chamber.

Stivers believes the NRCC could add value by helping incumbents who face primary challenges. Roughly 200 of the 247 House Republicans worry more about primaries than general election contests that have been the NRCC’s focus, he said in an interview.

The NRCC would only provide assistance in primaries if polling shows a real contest (similar to the existing Patriot Program), and funds would only go to members who’ve paid their NRCC dues, Stivers said of his proposal. “It’s got a very, very warm reception,” he said. “People are very excited about and anxious about some help in primaries.”

A Williams spokesman said the congressman would not discuss the NRCC race until after the election, honoring a request from Speaker Paul D. Ryan for members to not publicly campaign for leadership races before then. His decision to run came after numerous members approached him to fill the role because of his fundraising experience, the spokesman said. Williams has run the Republican National Committee’s Eagles program, which provides access to donors who contribute $15,000 or more a year and has helped former President George W. Bush and Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Republican Conference Vice Chair

Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the current conference vice chairwoman, has not said whether she will run again, but if she decides not to — as some are speculating — it will likely create a contested election. A Jenkins spokesman said she is focused on serving her constituents and retaining a strong House majority, and that “there will be plenty of time after the election for leadership races.”

Texas Rep. Bill Flores, who is term-limited as the Republican Study Committee chairman, is considering running for conference vice chairman, but he does not plan to make any decisions until after the election.

Republican Conference Secretary

The conference secretary position will be open since North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx is expected to seek the gavel of the Education and the Workforce Committee. Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski is considering running for the post. Other candidates may emerge to make this a contested race.

Democratic Caucus Chair

The current caucus vice chairman, Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, has his eye on replacing Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, who is prohibited from seeking a third term under caucus rules. Crowley is not expected to be challenged but has not yet formally announced that he is running.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chair

The main contested race in the Democratic leadership will be for caucus vice chair. Reps. Barbara Lee and Linda T. Sánchez, two minority women from California, are vying for the position considered to be fifth in the leadership line.

Democrats are hoping this contest won't evolve into the kind of hard-fought battle the party faced two years ago, when New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California ran a heated campaign for ranking member of Energy and Commerce.

Members cast secret ballots in these races, so winners and losers don’t know who backed who.

Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair

New York Rep. Steve Israel is retiring, creating an opening for chairman of the Democratic policy and communications committee, a position elected by the caucus upon a nomination by the House Democratic leader. Other members are allowed to nominate someone if they submit a notice signed by five other members. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi created the post for Israel in 2015 after he stepped down as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Top Committee Posts

Most committee chairmen and ranking members are selected by Republican and Democratic steering committees and then approved by the larger party caucuses. The steering committees will meet separately in December.

The structure of the Republican Steering Committee may be tweaked in a Nov. 16 vote on GOP conference rules for the 115th Congress. Committee members will be selected after the rules package is adopted, but the panel is likely to be comprised of party and committee leaders, regional and class representatives, and perhaps, a few at-large members.

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is likely to keep most of its current membership, but there will be at least one opening as defeated Maryland Senate candidate Rep. Donna Edwards leaves Congress.

Energy and Commerce

Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan is term-limited and not seeking a waiver to continue heading the panel, even though he will continue to serve in Congress. That has created a contest between Oregon’s Walden, Illinois Rep. John Shimkus and Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, the committee’s former chairman.

It's likely to be the most watched committee contest given the widespread jurisdiction of the panel and the unpredictable nature of the race.

Barton, the most senior member of the three, chaired the committee from 2004 to 2007 and served as ranking member from 2007 to 2009. His spokesman confirmed that he was in the running to take back the gavel. Considered a chairman emeritus, Barton's previous service atop the committee would normally mean that he would need to seek a waiver to get past Republican term limits, but his spokesman said leadership has assured the 16-term congressman that he does not need a waiver to run.

Shimkus, in his 10th term, has seniority over Walden, a factor the Steering Committee usually weighs heavily. But Walden, who's in his ninth term, has an advantage as the sitting NRCC chairman, since he’s spent the last two years raising money for his colleagues to help get them re-elected.

Appropriations

Like Upton, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers is term-limited, not seeking a waiver and not retiring. The Kentucky Republican has said he would be interested in being chairman of the panel’s defense subcommittee next Congress. And there’s likely to be an opening, with New Jersey Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, the current defense subcommittee chairman, seeking the full committee gavel.

Frelinghuysen is the most senior Republican appropriator next to Rogers, so he is favored even if another member were to challenge him. But a contest seems unlikely; Alabama Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, the only other member to have discussed running, appears to have backed off.  

Veterans’ Affairs

Expect contested races for both party leadership positions. Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe is running to succeed retiring Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida, Roe’s office confirmed. Committee Vice Chairman Gus Bilirakis of Florida, who is more senior than Roe, is said to be interested as well.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, the second-highest ranking Republican on the panel, is also running, his office confirmed.

The ranking member slot on the panel is also open since Florida Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown had to step aside after she was indicted. California’s Mark Takano has filled the role in an acting capacity and is seeking to make the role permanent. But Takano faces a challenge from Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, who has touted being the “highest-ranking enlisted soldier to serve in Congress.”

Education and the Workforce

Foxx of North Carolina is relinquishing her Republican conference secretary post to run for the chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee, where the term-limited Chairman John Kline of Minnesota is retiring. She is not expected to have a challenger.  

Ethics

The speaker and minority leader nominate who leads the House Ethics Committee, whose members have the unpleasant task of sitting in judgment of their colleagues. Chairman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania is stepping down due to term limits imposed by the panel’s guidelines. California’s Sánchez, the ranking member, is eligible to stay on for one more term but is unlikely to do so if she wins the Democratic caucus vice chairmanship.

House Administration

Chairwoman Candice S. Miller opted this year to run for local office in her native Michigan, creating an opening for a position informally considered to be mayor of Capitol Hill. The chair of this low-profile panel, which oversees everything from floor proceedings, security, payroll and office furnishings, is nominated by the speaker and confirmed by the entire conference.

Two potential successors have emerged. One is Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi, who is considered second-in-command on the panel. His office said the congressman has confidence the speaker will do what is in the best interest of the House. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, who is third in line, may be another potential candidate. But all his office would say is that Davis would be interested in continuing to work on the committee in any capacity he is asked to by the speaker.

Rules

As speaker, Ryan gets to select the chairman of the Rules Committee and the Republican conference will ratify his choice. It is possible Ryan will reappoint Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who was selected in 2012 to head the panel by former Speaker John A. Boehner.

Sessions has been a loyal Ryan ally, but this would be Ryan’s first opportunity to choose a Rules Committee chairman, and he could decide to shake things up.

For now, Ryan’s team is not indicating a preference. “The speaker is focused on protecting our congressional majorities, and we’re not discussing chairmanships until after the election,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

Budget

Since Rep. Chris Van Hollen is running for Senate in Maryland, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will nominate the next ranking member on the Budget Committee, who will then be voted on by the entire caucus. She’s stayed mum on who she considers a favorite, but Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky has expressed interest to fellow members. The position is considered to be a leadership post, albeit one that is the lowest rung on the ladder.

Party Caucus Changes

Republican Study Committee

The larger of the two conservative caucuses in the House will hold its leadership elections on Nov. 17. Two candidates — Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Mark Walker of North Carolina — are vying for the chairmanship, which changes hands with each new Congress, per the RSC’s bylaws. Both men are current members of the group’s board of directors and say they are seeking to align conservatives so the right can exert even more influence in the Republican conference .

Harris, who is also a member of the more conservative House Freedom Caucus, is the recommended choice of the group’s prior chairmen, given that he’s served in Congress four years longer than Walker, who is a freshman. But Walker has also racked up several high-profile endorsements and doesn’t plan to go down without a fight.

Tuesday Group

The Tuesday Group, a caucus of centrist Republicans, does not have term limits for its leadership. Currently, the group is co-chaired by Pennsylvania’s Dent and Robert J. Dold and Adam Kinzinger, both of Illinois. Dent, who is the most public face of the leadership team, is expected to remain on as chairman. Dold and Kinzinger may run again too, if they’re re-elected to Congress. Dold is one of the most at-risk members this cycle, coming in fourth place on Roll Call’s most recent list of the top 10 most vulnerable House members. Kinzinger, however, is in a Safe Republican seat, according to The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating.

House Freedom Caucus

Whether the Freedom Caucus elects a new chairman for the first time since the group’s inception in 2015 depends entirely on current Chairman Jim Jordan. The Ohio Republican is not expected to face opposition if he were to seek another term. But Jordan may be more likely to step aside and let another Freedom Caucus founder take the helm. North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Meadows has signaled he will run for chairman if Jordan does not. It’s unclear if any other members may consider challenging him.

Congressional Progressive Caucus

The Congressional Progressive Caucus will elect its co-chairmen as it customarily does before each new Congress. This panel does not have term limits. Current Co-Chairman Keith Ellison of Minnesota is running again, his office confirmed. But staff of fellow co-chairman, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, said it was not known if the Arizona congressman would seek another term. 

Congressional Black Caucus

The Congressional Black Caucus is also holding an election, though it’s keeping a tight lid on who might be interested in leading the group. The CBC holds leadership elections before each new Congress. The caucus did not respond to a request for comment on whether the current chairman, North Carolina Democrat G.K. Butterfield, can or will run again. 

Congressional Hispanic Caucus

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus elects new leaders each Congress, per its bylaws. This year, the group will hold leadership elections in November. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, the current first vice chairwoman, is planning to seek the chairmanship. Other members of the leadership team are also expected to move up a rung on the ladder.  

New Democrat Coalition

This is one of the more crowded races this cycle, with all three current vice chairs running to replace Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who cannot seek another term under coalition bylaws that prevent chairs from serving for two consecutive Congresses. Reps. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, Jim Himes of Connecticut, and Jared Polis of Colorado are all in the running to replace him. The New Democrats will hold their election the week of Nov. 28.

Blue Dog Coalition

Each Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition elects leaders after candidates are selected by a three-member nominating committee. Current coalition co-chairmen, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Jim Costa of California and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, will select the nominating committee members after the November election. Once the nominating commission proposes the candidates, coalition members will vote. Because the nominating committee has not yet been formed, it’s difficult to speculate on who the candidates will be.

This article has been updated to include Rep. Doug Lamborn to the list of candidates running for chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.