One of a trio of Republican congressmen will take over a conservative caucus in the U.S. House with a 40-year history that some members see as compromised.
Although a front-runner has emerged, insiders warn a bump in support for a candidate favored by House leadership could affect the outcome.
Next Tuesday, three lawmakers seek the chairmanship of the Republican Study Committee: Bill Flores of Texas, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.
“I’ve talked about the role of the RSC in trying to assert itself in the definition of what it means to be a conservative,” Mulvaney said in an interview with The Daily Signal, adding:
To a certain extent, that mantle has been taken by many of the outside groups. They do their scorecards, and say, ‘This is a good conservative vote.’ I learned during the farm bill that it should be us — who are actually voting — who should actively participate in what it means to be a good conservative.
Mulvaney was referring to a heated debate within the party earlier this year over, first, separating out food stamp funding from the farm bill and, second, the details of remaining agricultural subsidies. Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation, angered many Republicans with its prescriptions for conservatives on both matters.
The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.
Rep. Phil Crane, R-Ill., and others founded the RSC in 1973 as a caucus designed to promote and advance a conservative agenda in the House. In recent years, though, the group grew to 172 members and drifted from its conservative roots — a move that saddened founders such as Crane, who died Nov. 7.
Republicans held 233 of 435 seats in the House going into the Nov. 4 midterm elections, when they increased their majority over Democrats by 12 seats.
Recent RSC chairmen include Jeb Hensarling of Texas, now head of the Financial Services Committee, and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Both are regarded as firmly part of the conservative wing of the GOP.
Louisiana’s Steve Scalise followed Jordan as RSC chairman, but vacated the post in June to become majority whip, the House’s No. 3 Republican. Rob Woodall of Georgia took over the chairmanship temporarily.
Some House conservatives were critical of Scalise’s ascent to RSC chair and argued his close ties to leadership — House Speaker John Boehner, then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy — stymied the group’s ability to remain close to its conservative roots.
Traditionally, the RSC’s “founders” — predominantly former chairman — endorsed a candidate for chairman and thus ensured that lawmaker’s victory. The founders’ pick of a chairman could be challenged after a candidate collected signatures from 25 percent of RSC members. The two contenders then would move to a runoff election.
Following Scalise’s move to House leadership, however, members amended committee bylaws to end the tradition and allow for a more democratic process with multiple candidates. The bylaws are not available for public consumption.
Yesterday, lawmakers re-elected Boehner and the rest of the House leadership team.
The race for the RSC chairmanship originally included Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming. The two dropped out after the deaths of their spouses.
Both Flores and Mulvaney — who emerged as the early frontrunner — boast that they have enough votes to win. One observer with knowledge of the race, though, told The Daily Signal the outcome isn’t as cut and dried as it may appear.
“I don’t have all the answers, so my goal is to make sure that the 180-some odd members of the RSC each have a seat at the table where we can talk about what their vision is in terms of the issues we care about most,” Flores said, “and that is creating economic growth and jobs, balancing the budget, restoring a strong national defense, and also promoting our strong social values.”
House leadership has said it doesn’t intervene in the RSC’s dealings. However, should top Republicans throw their weight behind Flores as a pro-leadership chairman, the move could shake up the race.
“It seems we’ve moved into an area where [House] leadership helps choose the RSC leadership, and … when you owe somebody for your position, it makes it a little tougher to stand up to them when push comes to shove,” Gohmert told The Daily Signal.
Mulvaney told The Hill newspaper that he favors a pathway to legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally — one of the biggest points of contention between the party’s “establishment” and conservative wings.
Flores and Gohmert, though, say they oppose any form of amnesty or “reward” for those in the country illegally.
Kelsey Harkness and Josh Siegel contributed to this report.