House GOP Shake-Up in the Works?

Posted November 4, 2008 at 10:57am

As voters across the country head to the polls today, the expected Republican rout at the Congressional level appears almost certain to alter the makeup of House GOP leadership in coming days, with aides suggesting that no one’s job is safe and speculation swirling about possible challenges up and down the ladder.

However, no one has yet emerged as the consensus alternative to challenge Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the top job.

Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is widely viewed as likely to seek a promotion in the next Congress, but most observers see him as unlikely to challenge Boehner unless there is a groundswell of support to oust the leader after the results are in.

Several lawmakers, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), are expected to consider running for the job of Conference chairman, a post currently held by Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.).

According to a GOP aide on Monday, Hensarling already is calling Members to gauge support for a possible run for Putnam’s job.

Hensarling spokesman Brad Dayspring denied that his boss had been gauging support for a run for Conference chairman.

“The aide speaking on background is either misinformed, or making things up,” Dayspring said. “Congressman Hensarling has been razor-focused on helping House Republicans in competitive campaigns and those challenging Democrats win.”

There is also plenty of chatter about the intentions of freshman Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has spent the closing days of the campaign raising money for embattled colleagues. Some aides and strategists speculate that he is eyeing the Chief Deputy Minority Whip slot if Cantor, an ally, ascends to become Minority Whip, a job that is currently held by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Others expect McCarthy to jump into the race to head the National Republican Congressional Committee.

McCarthy declined to say whether he will seek a leadership position.

“I’ve given a lot of thought to how we restructure and work as a team to get the majority back, and we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us,” he said.

The race for NRCC chair could be recast by a GOP Conference rules change gathering some interest in leadership circles: allowing the Republican leader to appoint the campaign chief. The party abandoned that model after 1998, when Republicans lost seats under the direction of Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), who had been hand-picked by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Now, some are arguing that process, which Democrats employ, would better enable the GOP leader to coordinate the party’s effort to recapture the majority.

But privately, even some Members wonder whether, given the degree of today’s expected losses, Boehner will have the political capital to make such a change. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the Minority Leader would defer to the Conference on any potential change.

“It’s not up to him to decide, and for him to weigh in on any such proposal favorably or unfavorably without prior discussion by the Conference would be inappropriate,” Steel said.

Republicans acknowledged their task will get significantly tougher today. Amidst their gloom, they focused on one bright spot — the possible defeat of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who faces a more competitive race after he referred to western Pennsylvania as a “racist area.”

“Jack Murtha is the gift that keeps on giving,” one House GOP leadership aide said. “His offensive comments have given us the opportunity to knock him off, which would be a huge blow to Democrat leadership. Or he barely holds on, allowing us to continue to use him as the poster child of abuse of power. It’s a win-win situation either way.”