New Bicameral Conservative Group Forming
Prominent House and Senate conservatives are seeking to forge a new bicameral working group as part of a quiet effort to improve cross-chamber coordination and adapt to life in the minority.
While still in its nascent stages — the group held its first breakfast meeting Feb. 7 at the Capitol Hill Club — participants are hopeful that the sessions will help conservatives generate new ideas and plot smarter legislative strategies. The group’s intention so far appears to be to keep the effort below the radar by limiting attendance to a small, invitation-only gathering. Participants have not given the informal caucus a name or made any public announcements about its existence.
A source familiar with the effort said it is expected to include the most “active of the active” of the House’s Republican Study Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and the Senate’s Steering Committee chaired by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
In the House, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) is said to be the leading Member taking part in the effort. Across the Capitol, DeMint is expected to be the point man.
Shadegg declined to discuss the group or its agenda, saying only, “It’s not unusual for like-minded conservatives to get together to discuss ideas.”
Sources said the idea was hatched in early February at the RSC’s annual retreat in Baltimore. On the House side, GOP Members expected to participate in the sessions include Shadegg, Hensarling, and Reps. John Campbell (Calif.) and Tom Price (Ga.), among others. DeMint is expected to join the effort although a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending a Feb. 13 meeting, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also is expected to be sought after for the sessions. DeMint and Coburn, both former Members of the House and the RSC, have carved out niches in the Senate as vocal conservatives on budgetary and fiscal issues.
Knowledgeable sources said the informal group is not intended to compete with either the RSC or the Steering Committee, and that the intention is to keep the group contained to a small number of lawmakers, with one source saying “no more than six to eight” Members would be involved at any given time.
One of the overarching plans for the group is to work on new ideas for the best ways to write and introduce legislative alternatives. One source suggested that in the past, such a bicameral approach to the conservative agenda was not necessary because both parties were in the majority and they had a far greater say in crafting policy.
However, with House Republicans out in the wilderness and unable to offer legislation, House conservatives are expected to rely more on their Senate counterparts who have greater opportunities to introduce alternatives on the floor because that chamber provides more minority rights.
Another source noted that the bicameral conservative group is not a new concept. After the GOP took control of the House in 1994, a similar “Breakfast Club” was initiated to hash out the new conservative agenda, the source said.
The new group is another indication that Shadegg has no intentions of settling on the backbench of the House Republican Conference despite two recent defeats in leadership elections and the GOP’s minority status.
A former RSC chairman, Shadegg vacated his Policy Committee chairmanship to run for Majority Leader early last year and lost to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). He tried again in November for Minority Whip, and lost to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Before Election Day, Shadegg also gave a sizable $602,000 donation to the National Republican Congressional Committee as part of the unsuccessful effort to retain the majority.