Would-Be Whips Woo Conservatives, Reassure Moderates
Candidates for House majority whip are pushing their cases hard in the last hours of the race, each promising to heal a party scarred by infighting and at the same time, wrangle the conference into a united voting bloc. In the run-up to Thursday’s pivotal vote, Rep. Peter Roskam, the chief deputy whip, is touting himself as the most experienced candidate — and the only one who will be a disciplinarian toward rambunctious members who vote out of step with leadership.
The Illinois Republican said he would punish members who vote against leaders’ priorities, according to a member familiar with his pitch. Although that is much more difficult in a post-earmark world, Roskam laid out a slate of ideas, including refusing to take up unruly members’ bills, withholding plum committee assignments and even banishing rebels from the weekly conference breakfast, denying them a free meal if they do not play with the rest of the team. “There is a heroic majority here. There is a majority in our conference that wants to move forward and do great things, and I want to be a part of trying to bring that out and enable that,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Roskam’s pitch contrasts with the case made by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee. Scalise has shot to the top of the field by promising to be a conservative and Southern voice at the leadership table. He is pointing to a successful vote on splitting the nutrition and agriculture titles of the farm bill as an instance in which he helped pass conservative ideas on the House floor.
“I’ve shown as chairman of the RSC that we can bridge divides in our conference,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve worked with our leadership to bring bills to the floor that RSC members are interested in having addressed. … In exchange, they’ve said, ‘Look if you want to bring more conservative bills to the floor you have to help us get them passed.’ And we’ve proven that you can pass conservative policy that unites the conference.”
But he has also told members who are frustrated by having to vote on hot-button bills that endanger them politically because they represent more moderate districts that he would tamp down the number of votes on those controversial issues — a move leaving some Republicans wondering how he can at the same time facilitate and suppress conservative policy, according to the member who heard his pitch.
Indiana’s Marlin Stutzman has told members he has the closest ties to the conservative contingent of the conference, and would huddle with them to try to talk out differences. He has gained traction among members who believe neither Roskam nor Scalise are conservative enough, but has also told moderate members that he would help them.
He noted that some conservative members would act as rogues no matter what, but promised he would try to put a lid on their tendency to deride other Republicans on TV and talk radio, which inflicts damage both to the individual being attacked and the conference.
The backroom discussions continued on Capitol Hill through Tuesday evening with each candidate making calls and meeting in person with members. Scalise and Roskam each huddled separately in Cannon House Office Building with the 13-strong Pennsylvania delegation to seek their votes. Stutzman met with the group on the House floor later in the evening.
The group is considering voting as a bloc for a single candidate, but many acknowledged unifying behind a single whip candidate would be difficult. If they do, it would be a boon to any candidacy in getting to the crucial 117 votes they need to win the race outright.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said the group wanted to hear about each candidate’s leadership style, but is also considering leveraging its size as the fourth-largest Republican delegation into substantial gains.
“Part of it is, if we all vote together, what does that mean for us? Can we get someone on Ways and Means? Can we get policy committee chair? Do we want policy committee chair?” he said.
In the broader conference, the whip race is posing an agonizing choice for members who have to weigh personal and geographical considerations against what would be best for the conference. The race, which will be decided by a secret vote behind closed doors on Thursday, is almost certain to go to a second ballot once the loser of the three bows out to make it a head-to-head contest.
The historic class of 2010 planned to meet Tuesday evening to discuss their preferences, giving Stutzman a chance to make the case to his classmates that he would be their best choice.
Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., who has been whipping for Scalise, said that many of the conservative members, including his fellow members in the 2010 class, are likely to support Stutzman. But since his bid is a long shot, those members would vote for Scalise on a second ballot.
“The people who would support Marlin, if he’s not there, would support Steve,” he said. “He’s more conservative. Peter has a good record, but I think because Steve has led the RSC, the conservative group, I think he will continue to garner conservative support.”
But support from the 2010 class is not monolithic. Rep. James B. Renacci of Ohio, for instance, said he is supporting Roskam because he would be a steady hand as the conference closes out the term.
“I’m a big supporter of Mr. Roskam,” he said. “We really need to just keep some continuity as we finish out this term, and I think Peter’s there and he’s already been part of the whip operation.”
But at the same time there is a Machiavellian undercurrent driving some of the conservative members. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona said he and others are considering voting for Roskam even though they think he is the least conservative of the three. He said that would keep the current leadership together and give conservatives a chance to take them out wholesale in the next round of leadership elections in November.
“That means there’s always November and December. This isn’t a one-time deal,” he said. “I want to be part of the process of change in this place. Status quo doesn’t do anything for me.”
One the other hand, moderate members are discussing supporting Scalise, thinking that the only way to prevent an all-out civil war in the party is to appease the contingent of members who want a red-state conservative at the leadership table.
The candidates will have their single chance to make a pitch to the conference as a whole when Republicans meet in the Capitol Wednesday morning.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.
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