Conference Job Could Open
A recent interview with Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio) has set off unexpectedly early speculation about who will succeed her as Republican Conference chairwoman and complicated the contest to take over the Financial Services Committee for the 110th Congress.
A March 19 story in The Columbus Dispatch reported that Pryce would be willing to leave the Conference post in the next Congress if she could take the Financial Services gavel, which fellow Ohio Rep. Mike Oxley (R) will be forced to give up because of term limits.
Pryce spokeswoman Anne Buresh played down the importance of the Dispatch story, emphasizing that her boss has made no formal decision yet about her future plans.
“She’s very happy being Conference chairman,” Buresh said. “Is she going to rule out something that would potentially be an opportunity in the future? No, but right now she’s focusing on being Conference chair.”
Even if Pryce has not yet decided whether she will stay in the Conference post for another term, the mere possibility of a vacancy in the No. 4 job in the Republican leadership will likely be enough to bring potential candidates out of the woodwork.
At this point, the two most likely contestants to replace Pryce are current Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (Ga.) and Conference Secretary John Doolittle (Calif.).
Kingston has been heavily involved in Republican message efforts since then-Rep. J.C. Watts’ (Okla.) tenure as Conference chairman. That experience, combined with Kingston’s enthusiastic courtship of the press, prompted one GOP leadership aide to suggest that Kingston is “the clear frontrunner.”
But Doolittle also has a good deal of experience and is well-liked among House GOP conservatives. In addition to his current job, Doolittle also held the equivalent of the Conference chairmanship post when he served in the California state Senate.
“I haven’t spoken with Deborah about her intentions for the next leadership election, but I think she has done a wonderful job as the Conference Chairperson and I sincerely hope she decides to run again,” Doolittle said in a statement. “However, if she decides not to run, I am interested in pursuing the position of Conference Chairman and look forward to advancing the goals of the Republican Conference.”
If Pryce does decide to vacate her leadership post, Kingston and Doolittle could quickly be joined in the race by other candidates — perhaps by a media-friendly lawmaker such as Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), or an up-and-coming junior Member such as freshman Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).
On the committee front, Pryce made her interest in Financial Services clear at the beginning of this Congress, when she moved off of the Rules Committee to reclaim her seat on the banking panel.
But while her leadership position gives her a certain amount of clout among her GOP colleagues, Pryce’s ascension to the Financial Services job is by no means ensured.
Louisiana Rep. Richard Baker (R), chairman of the Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, insurance and government sponsored enterprises, has been eyeing the top job since even before Oxley won it in 2001.
“At the appropriate time in the future, should the opportunity be presented, Congressman Baker would like to be considered someone who can and will effectively lead the committee,” said Baker spokesman Michael DiResto, adding that his boss was currently focused only on the panel’s legislative work.
Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) could also make a move for Financial Services. Dreier won a waiver in January to remain atop the Rules panel for a fourth term. Like Pryce when she served on Rules, Dreier has been on leave from Financial Services and could choose to reclaim his seat there at the end of this Congress.
If Rules is vacant, then Pryce might shift her focus and try to secure that gavel instead. While the Financial Services chairman is chosen by the Republican Steering Committee, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has sole discretion over Rules.
Before Hastert granted Dreier his waiver earlier this year, GOP Members and aides viewed Rep. Doc Hastings (Wash.) as his most likely successor.
Hastings has since been named chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, but Hastert could still choose to move the Washington state Member from ethics over to Rules in 2007.