“The election was to be held in January,” Erickson wrote. “The only declared candidate was Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. ... But then Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri ... announced this week he wanted the job too. Immediately after announcing his entry, Sen. Mitch McConnell moved the election up from January to next week and began whipping votes on behalf of Senator Roy Blunt.”
But Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) told Roll Call this week that the election was never supposed to occur in January, as some Johnson supporters claim, and that he set the vote for Tuesday to give the winner time to prepare for the job before Congress reconvenes in the new year. McConnell’s office noted that Blunt announced his bid after the election was set, not the other way around.
After Alexander’s office informed Members on Tuesday morning of this week that leadership elections would occur next Tuesday, Blunt announced a few hours later than he was joining Johnson in the race for Conference vice chairman. Johnson announced his campaign several weeks ago, soon after Alexander said he would be stepping down as Conference chairman in late January.
“My suggestion, which was accepted by the leadership, was that the most orderly way to do this was to deal with it before we go home so that our leadership team could have its feet on the ground and be ready to go when we come back,” Alexander said.
In addition to the election for Conference vice chairman, Senate Republicans will be voting on a new Policy Committee chairman and a new Conference chairman. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the current Conference vice chairman, is running unchallenged for Policy Committee chairman; Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the current Policy Committee chairman, is running uncontested for Conference chairman. Alexander, the current Conference chairman, is voluntarily stepping down from the No. 3 leadership post in January; he has said he believes he can be more effective at building consensus as a rank-and-file Senator.
Later in the day, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced on Twitter that he was supporting Johnson for Conference vice chairman. Ryan doesn't have a vote because only sitting GOP Senators will be allowed to cast ballots. But it appears his public backing was intended to generate additional grass-roots pressure on Senate Republicans to support Johnson.
The House Budget chairman, who serves with Johnson as a member of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation and is a national figure among the GOP grass roots, has previously endorsed in contested Senate Republican primaries. "I'm proud to support @SenRonJohnson for Vice-Chair of Senate GOP Conference. He's a proven leader for fiscal responsibility in Congress," Ryan said in a Twitter post.