Roskam-Scalise Whip Race Heats Up, Gets Ugly
The two front-runners in the race to become the next House majority whip spent the weekend shoring up support with potential allies — and, through staff, taking swipes at each other.
A source close to Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, in an emailed memo to CQ Roll Call, said the 90-plus members in the House who have pledged to vote for the Illinois Republican are “rock solid,” while Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise’s numbers are “soft” and “all over the place since Thursday — at 100, 120, over 100, etc. etc.
“No one wants a whip who can’t count,” the source continued, “and no one wants a whip who overpromises and under-delivers.”
Roskam was working out of his West Chicago office Saturday and Sunday, according to that source, and he has secured the backing of some top surrogates from “red” states (a criticism of Roskam’s candidacy is that the leadership table needs more representation from traditionally conservative strongholds).
“A Southern thought leader reached out saying the letter was ‘very impressive,’ ” said the source of a detailed memo Roskam sent to peers late last week outlining what he would bring to the job. “We’re turning the undecideds and picking off Southern members from Scalise’s base.”
Roskam’s backers include Trey Gowdy and Tom Rice, of South Carolina, Diane Black of Tennessee, Jeff Miller and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Kay Granger of Texas, George Holding of North Carolina and Gregg Harper of Mississippi.
Meanwhile, a GOP aide familiar with Scalise’s whip campaign, the Republican Study Committee chairman, said the congressman spent Saturday in Washington, D.C., taking meetings and making calls. He returned home for a brief Father’s Day celebration with his family and came back late Sunday evening. By early Monday morning, said the aide, he was back in his office on Capitol Hill pounding the proverbial pavement.
Among the 50 lawmakers whipping for Scalise is a member of leadership: Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, whose backing of Scalise shows that not everyone in the so-called “establishment” is automatically standing with Roskam, the candidate who already has a leadership appointment. Others include Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Aaron Schock of Illinois, Ann Wagner of Missouri and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina.
The aide said he doesn’t need to reveal how many members have committed to voting for Scalise, saying of those who do offer numbers — Roskam, for instance — “it seems fishy.”
“Congressman Scalise has run and won on a secret ballot campaign before in Congress,” said the aide of Scalise’s successful bid to be RSC chairman. When the results came in, the aide went on, “Scalise’s internals were only two off.”
Roskam and Scalise are banking on a scenario where the current GOP whip, Kevin McCarthy of California, wins his own bid to succeed Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is stepping down from the majority leader post at the end of July following his primary defeat last week. McCarthy will face off against Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, on Thursday afternoon in a secret ballot election, and if McCarthy wins, the race to fill the empty whip slot will take place immediately.
In that case, Roskam and Scalise will go head-to-head alongside Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., whose aides were not immediately able to provide to CQ Roll Call a progress report on their boss’s campaigning over the weekend.
In the event that none of the three contenders receive a majority of their colleagues’ support, a second election will take place between the two members with the highest number of votes. Roskam’s supporters predict that Stutzman, a conservative favorite, won’t get enough votes to qualify for that second ballot, but will peel enough “protest” votes away from Scalise to significantly weaken his selling point that he represents the conservative values of the conference.
“His argument [is] that being from a red state, he can unite the conference on that basis alone,” said the source close to Roskam, who in his Friday letter promised to name a red state Republican to serve as his chief deputy should he win as whip. “If that were true, you wouldn’t have seen Stutzman get into the race, and you wouldn’t have seen Labrador enter into the [majority leader] race if ‘Scalise the Southerner’ was enough.”
If Scalise and Roskam are forced to go to a second ballot, said the source, “then it cuts at the heart of [Scalise’s] claim that he can do the very job he’s running for.”
The aide close to Scalise rejected that argument.
“Scalise’s strategy has always been to win on the first ballot,” he said. “I think Roskam’s campaign has been the one focusing on the second ballot.”