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Mulvaney Says Outside Groups Won’t Define Conservative Credibility

Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a front-runner in the race for chairmanship of the Republican Study Committee in the next Congress, is vowing to guard the independence of the GOP’s right wing from influential outside groups like Heritage Action.

“The days for somebody else defining what it means to be conservative will be over,” Mulvaney said in an interview.

Mulvaney is advancing the position of Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the RSC’s former chairman, who put daylight between the RSC and Heritage Action, the
Club for Growth
and other advocacy groups that press members of the GOP caucus to hold a staunch conservative line on a range of issues

“I think it’s incumbent upon the people who get elected and have the voting cards, to define what it means to be conservative,” said Mulvaney, who was first elected to Congress in 2010 in the tea party wave. “So going forwardon the farm bill, for exampleIf the folks who are voting think that a particular vote is conservative, we will defend that as a conservative vote, even against the wishes of some of the outside groups.”

Although many Republicans, urged on by GOP leaders on measures such as last year’s budget deal (PL 113-67),
have broken
from Heritage, the Club for Growth and other hard-line conservative groups in floor votes in the past year, Mulvaney’s remarks are perhaps the strongest against the groups by a prominent member of the party’s conservative wing.

“At some point in the recent past, conservatives lost control over what it means to be conservative,” Mulvaney said. “We ceded that role to outside groups. There’s a couple of groups that want to take that mantle of defining what it means to be conservative.”

Mulvaney said the RSC, which counts about three-quarters of the Republican caucus as members, would work with Heritage Action and other groups when there is agreement on issues. .

Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, said the group would continue to work with RSC and its leaders on shared priorities. “It’s fair to say the RSC — while historically close to  Heritage — has always been its own entity. I don’t expect any of that to change. But Heritage Action is going to work with the RSC and with various members both inside and outside of that organization,” Holler said.

Mulvaney, among four members aiming to replace Scalise at the top of the policy-setting RSC, has forged a broad network with allies in the group and in the smaller Tea Party Caucus, and appears to have an edge in the coming contest for the successor to the current RSC chairman, Rob Woodall of Georgia. The other candidates are Bill Flores and Louie Gohmert, both of Texas, and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming. 

Another candidate, Andy HarrisR-Md., dropped out of the race
this week, citing a desire to focus on legislation and other responsibilities. 

The  RSC declared its independence from Heritage Action and other conservative groups last December, when Scalise fired the group’s longtime executive director, Paul Teller, citing concerns about close working ties to outside groups. The dispute came to a head during the debate over the two-year-budget agreement negotiated by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray of Washington.

The budget deal won House passage, 332-94, with support from nearly three-fourths of the Republican Conference, including a majority of RSC members. Scalise, Mulvaney, Gohmert and Lummis voted no, while Flores voted yes. Heritage Action and other groups opposed the deal, citing concerns about increased spending and higher user fees.