Moderates Are Down, Not Out

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:39pm

For years, House GOP moderates have found new ways to survive in a conservative-leaning Conference — only this year they are doing so by becoming more conservative.

“People have written our obituary over and over again and we’re now north of two dozen Members,” said Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), chairman of the Tuesday Group, the most influential group of centrist GOP lawmakers.

To be sure, the Tuesday Group — now 27 Members strong — isn’t what it was in the 110th, when it claimed about 40 lawmakers. But the group’s leadership insists it isn’t giving up on keeping the organization alive, and recently added some unlikely faces to its ranks.

Among them are Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), both members of the conservative Republican Study Committee and part of the GOP leadership. Not considered centrist, both have earned high rankings from the American Conservative Union.

A spokesman for McMorris Rodgers said the Washington lawmaker joined the group to hear the diverse views of the 177-member Republican Conference.

“The Congresswoman believes hearing different perspectives and different solutions is a valuable part of making decisions,” spokesman Destry Henderson said. “She feels best equipped to make a decision when she’s heard many different perspectives.”

Kirk and fellow Tuesday Group Co-Chairman Charlie Dent (Pa.) are expected to be re-elected today to lead the moderate bloc in the 111th. Neither lawmaker faces opposition, but Kirk said the vote is important to give other members the chance to be heard.

“I think [everyone] is pretty happy, but I don’t want to run this like the current Congress where we don’t even take votes or anything,” Kirk said.

Although Kirk and others acknowledged the group may be evolving in the new Congress, they insist its core mission will stay the same.

One GOP source said the group’s suburban agenda, which includes a cluster of bills aimed at solving issues important to suburban America, would continue to be a priority, adding that those issues transcend party lines.

The decision to include conservatives in the Tuesday Group did not surprise retired Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), one of the group’s alumni. Davis said the new additions include lawmakers who have been known to break with the party ranks and show independence.

“These are people that have all had issues that are not in the traditional Republican mold,” Davis said.

And while the strong Democratic majority in the House makes culling centrist votes less critical to pass legislation, Davis said GOP centrists would remain relevant given their reputation for working across party lines.

“They put a stamp of bipartisan group on” legislation, Davis said. “The public doesn’t like partisanship.”

Former Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), a moderate who also retired from the House last year, said it was a good move by members of leadership to show interest in the group, no matter what their ideological bent.

“The Tuesday Group has never really excluded anybody,” she said, adding that conservative Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.) often sat in the lunchtime meetings. “They are common-sense pragmatists that are issue-driven.”

Pryce said in the 110th Congress conservative members of the Republican leadership rarely attended the meetings.

Davis and Pryce predicted that many of the Tuesday Group’s lawmakers would ally themselves with the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

“I would expect for Blue Dogs to continue to work with them going forward,” said Kristen Hawn, a spokeswoman for the Blue Dogs.