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GOP Rivals Bring Different Strategies to Leadership Races

Boehner, right, introduces House GOP leadership in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Boehner, right, introduces House GOP leadership in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker John A. Boehner announced last week he would resign at the end of October, ostensibly hoping to free the House Republican Conference of crippling infighting and discord.  

It is in this tenuous environment that lawmakers who want seats at the post-Boehner leadership table are making the rounds to shore up support, employing different strategies to navigate the challenging political terrain. Some ambitious members are playing it straight, like the two representatives vying to be majority leader in the likely event the current officeholder, Kevin McCarthy of California, succeeds Boehner as speaker. Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington have yet to make official announcements of their candidacies, but they aren’t hiding their ambitions. They used the weekend to make calls to colleagues to get commitments of support, and they solidified their whip teams to help make the rounds and nudge undecideds.  

Sources close to both Scalise’s and McMorris Rodgers’ operations claimed headway as lawmakers headed back to Washington, D.C., on Monday morning.  

“He’s moved even more members into the yes column,” a source close to Scalise wrote to CQ Roll Call. “Members who have been making calls on Scalise’s behalf say they are hearing support and praise.”  

“Significant progress was made over the weekend with more support solidified,” said a source working to elect McMorris Rodgers. “The reception has been very positive.”  

They’re running traditional leadership campaigns, riding on the conventional wisdom that the early bird gets the worm and the first 24 hours to 48 hours following a resignation or retirement announcement is crucial in getting a leg up on competitors.  

But two other lawmakers reportedly eyeing the race for majority leader are taking a different, and maybe ultimately riskier, approach.  

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., are also reportedly weighing bids for majority leader, but their efforts are happening under the radar. (Though Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, in announcing Monday morning he would not seek a leadership post, endorsed Price for majority leader.)  

Taking a broader approach, Roskam and Price have talked about restoring trust and healing wounds inside the conference, hoping perhaps to capitalize on the conservative contingent’s inherent distrust of “establishment” figures in the party who are running “establishment” campaigns.  

Roskam — once a member of the GOP leadership team himself as the appointed chief deputy whip until after Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his primary election in 2014 — is leading the charge  to delay leadership elections until the conference can convene in a special session to discuss the issues that led to Boehner’s departure and consider how to repair intraparty relationships.  

“This is not about me,” Roskam said in a statement accompanying a letter he sent to colleagues on Sept. 26 asking for backup in demanding the special meeting. “This is about understanding the importance of this historic moment — the resignation of a speaker do to internal party divisions — and making sure we empower our conference and leaders to fix the mistakes that got us here.”  

Price, who lost the conference chairmanship position to McMorris Rodgers in 2012, appears to have a similar strategy, though in a letter to members on Sunday he took a decidedly more assertive stance.  

Whereas Roskam cast himself as just another rank-and-file lawmaker seeing accountability from leadership, Price put himself forward as someone ready to listen and collaborate, conveying the messages, “You can trust me” and “I value you” — without saying explicitly he’s running for anything.  

“I am hopeful for the opportunity to talk with all of you about the best path forward,” Price said in his email. “There are many questions and real concerns that must be aired and addressed that we will have stock in the decision that will be made in the days ahead. Working together, I am confident that we can united as a Conference around our common principles and embrace the diverse ideas, experiences and talents of our members.  

“I look forward to working with you to achieve that vision and to serve our team in the best capacity possible,” Price concluded.  

Rep. Daniel Webster appears to be mulling a challenge to McCarthy for speaker by assuming a similar persona.  

The Florida Republican, nominated for speaker at the eleventh hour in January and kicked off the House Rules Committee in retaliation for bucking Boehner, is nine months later still a favorite of some members of the House Freedom Caucus who think he’d embrace a more “process-driven, bottom-up” leadership style.  

On Sept. 26, a senior aide to Webster was reaching out to counterparts in other House GOP offices trying to gently lay the groundwork for his boss’s candidacy, according to an email obtained by CQ Roll Call.  

“I know your boss is receiving calls from a variety of other members, but I know Rep. Webster would appreciate the opportunity to present to your boss his vision for reforming our process of governing,” the aide wrote.  

Matt Fuller and Eli Yokley contributed to this report.

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