Barrasso Plans to Stay On as Policy Chairman

Wyoming senator says it's too early for a leadership tussle

John Barrasso, left, says he is focused on efforts to help Republicans maintain control of the Senate. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
John Barrasso, left, says he is focused on efforts to help Republicans maintain control of the Senate. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 12, 2016 at 5:06pm

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso says he intends to run for another term as chairman of the Senate GOP’s Policy Committee, despite reports that Utah Sen. Mike Lee is interested in the position.  

“Yes. I mean I think it’s awfully early to get into this,” Barrasso told Roll Call. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a full election cycle coming up, and you know I’m completely focused on being there for all the members of our conference.”  

Minutes later, Barrasso told reporters aboard one of the Senate’s underground subway cars that his focus remained on producing policy information to help Senate GOP members be effective legislators.  

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to keep the Senate in Republican hands and to make sure that all the members have the policy information … to be the most effective,” Barrasso said. “I’m going to continue to do that.”  

“I get feedback from my members that the information is useful to them, so we’ll keep working on that,” he said.  

Lee formally announced earlier Tuesday that he was planning to run for the top spot on the Republican Policy Committee.  

“I saw a seat opening up, and I’m interested in policy and naturally I’m interested in anything to promote an active, lively discussion among members of the Senate Republican conference,” Lee told the Washington Examiner .  

Later in the day Lee was careful to say that he was not planning to oust a fellow senator from the post. “I want to be very clear: I’m not running against John Barrasso,” he told students at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service.  

But he questioned whether the GOP’s self-imposed term limits for leadership positions would force Barrasso out.  

The confusion may stem from the circumstances under which Barrasso became policy chairman, as part of a series of dominoes that fell after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., opted to resign from the Republican Conference chairmanship in the middle of the 112th Congress.  

That partial term doesn’t count toward the three, two-year term limit that GOP senators have set for leadership positions, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.  

“If the term limit kicked in at that point, you’d have the absurd position at the end of the term limit that you’d be in the middle of a Congress, changing, having elections, and changing leadership and changing staff and all the rest,” McConnell said.  

One of the examples to which the Kentucky Republican alluded was the leadership term of former Republican Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who assumed the post in June 1996, after Majority Leader Bob Dole resigned to focus on his presidential bid.  

“It seemed pretty clear to me based on Don Nickles’ experience,” Majority Whip John Cornyn said. “An unexpired fraction of a term doesn’t count against the three term or six-year rule.”  

Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said he thought the matter was pretty much settled if Barrasso is running again and Lee said he wouldn’t challenge him if that were the case.  

“So I think that pretty much is the end of that,” said Cornyn.  

But Lee said that in his view, the interpretation that Barrasso’s partial term as policy chairman does not count toward the six year limit is incorrect.  

“I respectfully but strongly disagree with their interpretation of the rule,” Lee said.  

Lee also told the Georgetown crowd that no senator he had spoken with within the Republican conference had offered the view of the term limit rule that McConnell outlined Tuesday.  

Bridget Bowman contributed.
Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski.

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