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James Lankford Makes Bid for Policy Committee Official

Freshman Rep. James Lankford officially announced his bid to head the Republican Policy Committee today, saying he hopes to bridge the gap between leadership and the rank and file on tough policy issues in the 113th Congress.

The speculation has long been that he would announce his intention to run after the election, when RPC Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) officially announced he will challenge Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) for the conference chairmanship. With nobody else running for the fifth-ranking GOP leadership slot, Lankford looks to be a shoo-in when leadership elections are held next week.

In his first interview since the announcement was made, the Oklahoma Republican told Roll Call that he wants to work with leadership to reach consensus within the GOP Conference about legislation before it comes to the floor. He said he has been working behind the scenes since August spreading that message to the Conference.

“I don’t see this as ‘I’m the policy chair and I’m setting policy.’ … The Speaker determines the direction that we’re going,” he said. “I see this as ‘I’m the facilitator… I stay behind the scenes.’”

The task is particularly important because the GOP will have a slimmer majority in the House than it did last year. The slew of tax and spending issues, as well as the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, will necessitate buy-in from everyone, he said.

As a result, he wants to allow Members who, for instance, are not on the Education and the Workforce Committee but who might have good ideas about education policy, to have their say through him.

“To work with different voices in the Republican Congress,” he said, and “to work with different Members to come up with compromise agreements within our own Conference.”

Lankford was a director of the largest Christian camp in American before deciding to run for Congress. He was initially on nobody’s radar but impressed leaders by becoming an effective communicator for GOP values and policy. Earlier this year, Roll Call included him on a list of up-and-coming freshmen who might one day aspire to be leaders or chairmen.

He said politics was never his strong suit, so when he was approached — although he won’t say by whom — to run for a position that would let him focus solely on policy, it was too good to pass up.

“It’s something my wife had already talked and prayed about,” Lankford said. “We had already determined that this is my passion, this is where I always go back to by default.”

Lankford is one of three freshmen running for leadership positions. Rep. Martha Roby (Ala.) is running to take over the Conference vice chairmanship from McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Jeff Denham (Calif.) is looking to become Conference secretary.

Lankford, though, said lack of experience is not a negative. He pointed to McMorris Rodgers and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who have been in the House for only a few terms but who hold important leadership positions.

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