Leaders Seek to Mend NRCC Rift

Posted September 25, 2007 at 6:41pm

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) used a closed-door meeting Tuesday to assure colleagues that the leadership is on the same page, despite recent internal tensions over the party’s 2008 campaign strategy and political operation.

The show of unity between Boehner and Cole during the GOP Conference meeting came in the wake of a heated confrontation that occurred between the two leaders earlier this month and became public in recent days. Sources said Cole and Boehner met privately Monday to discuss again Boehner’s previously expressed concerns about lagging fundraising, internal operations and the overall effectiveness of the NRCC.

While Boehner and Cole both made conciliatory statements at Tuesday’s Conference meeting, a senior GOP aide who does not work for either leader said no one should be “deluded” into thinking the situation has been resolved.

“I don’t think it puts the issue to rest,” said the aide. “We’ve got to work together, but there’s a problem at the NRCC. That problem still exists.”

Initially, Boehner had sought high-level staff changes — specifically replacing the committee’s executive director and political director — but Cole has remained adamant that he will not make such moves.

Still, sources said it is clear that the public dust-up will produce some changes at the committee, even though it remains unclear what the size and scope of those changes will be or if they will include replacing or augmenting current staff. The changes will also likely include better communication between all parties involved.

The senior GOP aide said that if Cole is unwilling to make staffing changes, he may be asked by his fellow leaders to set measurable benchmarks for the committee to meet — particularly on fundraising — to indicate to Members that the NRCC plans to do better.

“I think what you’re going to see is Cole reaching out to more members of leadership to say, ‘Here is what we’re doing’” to address the problems, the aide said.

In addition to slow fundraising, Cole’s fellow leaders have complained that the NRCC’s outreach to traditional allies on K Street has been lackluster.

Cole has said very little publicly about the leadership dispute. For his part, Boehner said that he and Cole will continue to have candid conversations about campaign strategy and operations moving forward and that both leaders remain committed to the same goal of returning Republicans to the majority in next year’s elections.

“Chairman Cole appreciates the dedication and support of Leader Boehner and all of our Members to regaining the majority,” said NRCC spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger. “This Republican team is united in our commitment to a single goal — winning in 2008.”

Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who headed the NRCC in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, said each chairman is handed different obstacles when he or she takes over the helm of the committee. For Reynolds, the big challenge was adjusting to new campaign finance laws that barred soft money. He also said that Members and Cole all have to play their part because they want the same thing.

Being in “the minority is enough reason to keep working to be in the majority,” Reynolds said.

At the end of August, the NRCC had less than $2 million in the bank compared with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s $22 million war chest. The NRCC began the cycle with a significant debt, approaching $16 million, but has paid it down to $3.95 million.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.