House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) has been exploring ways to give expanded responsibilities to his Deputy Whips since offering new issue portfolios to two GOP lawmakers whom he spurned for the Chief Deputy Whip post.
Blunt stunned observers in December by passing over Republican Reps. Mike Rogers (MIch.), Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) and Kay Granger (Texas) for the chief deputy position in favor of Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.). Rogers accepted a consolation prize, while Tiahrt declined his.
Soon after the 108th Congress kicked off in January, Blunt asked Rogers to be his Deputy Whip in charge of coalitions, making the Michigan lawmaker the Whip operation’s point man in communicating with outside groups.
Blunt also offered Tiahrt his own portfolio as the Deputy Whip in charge of dealing with family groups, but Tiahrt turned him down.
“Basically, Mr. Blunt talked to Mr. Tiahrt about that position and Congressman Tiahrt was flattered but decided since it is such an important group that perhaps Mr. Blunt would want to work with them directly,” said Tiahrt spokesman Chuck Knapp.
He added that Tiahrt, who remains a Deputy Whip, currently has his hands full with his work on the Appropriations Committee and other legislative initiatives.
Blunt and Cantor are now exploring ways of assigning each Deputy Whip an issue of his or her own. The Whips would each be paired with a Republican Senator, and the two Members would try to hold monthly meetings with outside industry groups.
The whole effort would be overseen by Rogers as part of his coalitions portfolio, a responsibility that was handled by Blunt when he was Chief Deputy Whip under then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Rogers has already put together coalitions of interest groups on four major Republican legislative initiatives this Congress: the energy bill, the medical liability bill, the bankruptcy bill and the tax package.
“For the [Republican] Conference it means it’s an important component of reaching the very magic number of 218 votes,” Rogers said.
Before major bills have hit the floor, Rogers has been meeting at least twice a week with small groups of key outside players to discuss strategy. The effort is separate from the internal Whip operation — which also holds vote-growing strategy meetings — and is designed to complement the Conference’s efforts to build coalitions on the message front.
“He essentially is the contact point to K Street,” said Cantor. “Mike’s done a terrific job.”
On the energy measure, the Rogers-led coalition included Rick Shelby of the American Gas Association, Drew Maloney of the Federalist Group, Bud Albright of Reliant Energy and Bob Powers of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department.
For medical liability, the group consisted of Ed Gillespie of Quinn Gillespie, Dave Hebert of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and Peggy Tighe of the American Medical Association.
On bankruptcy, Rogers met with Nick Calio of Citigroup, Gary Andres of the Dutko Group, John McKechnie of the Credit Union National Association and Katherine Lugar of the National Retail Federation.
For the tax bill, the coalition players were Ralph Hellmann of the Information Technology Industry Council, Dan Danner of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Richard Hunt of the Securities Industry Association and Dan Mattoon of Podesta Mattoon.
Rogers, seen as a rising star in GOP circles, has come out of the chief deputy race in a relatively strong position. Almost immediately after he was passed over, the lawmaker was tapped by National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) to serve as the NRCC’s finance chairman.
Both that position and the coalitions job have given him lines of communication to the fundraising and lobbying worlds that will prove useful if Rogers ever decides to mount a leadership bid of his own.