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BALTIMORE — Rep. Steve Scalise took the helm of the Republican Study Committee as a tainted man in the eyes of some of his colleagues, amid suspicion that he had solicited leadership help in winning the chairmanship.
Members were upset that Speaker John A. Boehner’s former chief of staff, Barry Jackson, made calls on behalf of the Louisiana Republican that contributed to his upset of Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who had the endorsement of the RSC founders.
Over the past month and a half, Scalise has worked to rebuild his credibility, and at the Heritage Foundation-sponsored RSC retreat held here last week, his colleagues said any lingering suspicions have been washed away.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina was a whip for Graves, but he said that any concerns he had about Scalise have been appeased.
“I do resent the fact that folks who are not traditionally members of the RSC, not participants in the RSC, would see fit to insert themselves in an RSC election,” Mulvaney said. “To me that violates a certain sense of fair play. That being said, I don’t think Scalise sought it out, and I don’t think Scalise is compromised in any way by that. Steve has so far been a really good chairman of the RSC.”
Scalise denied any knowledge of Jackson’s support.
“I don’t know what he was doing. I never talked to Barry about it,” he said. “I called every single member of the RSC personally, and some of them multiple times.”
He said he was able to pull through the contested race by reaching out to his colleagues, especially those who did not support him. He described his discussion with Mulvaney as an example.
“I said, ‘You and I are friends, and I know you and Tom are closer friends, but once this is over, if I’m fortunate enough to win, I want your help because we’re going to have to work together,’” Scalise said. “In the end, I think that made it a real easy transition because, again, it never got personal, but I also think people knew that there was a mutual respect. There’s not going to be any kind of vendettas.”
Indeed, Scalise gave the same treatment to Rep. Steve Southerland II of Florida, who delivered the nominating speech for Graves. Southerland headed the RSC antipoverty task force in the past Congress and Scalise asked him to return, despite Southerland’s work on behalf of his opponent.
“The tension through the election between Tom and Steve, I think, has been dissipated,” Southerland said.