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House Republicans Considering Leadership Bids — So Far

Much will depend on whether Republicans hold the majority and if so how speaker’s race unfolds

From left, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. All three men are looking to move up in leadership next Congress . (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
From left, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. All three men are looking to move up in leadership next Congress . (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans will have a new leader next Congress since Speaker Paul D. Ryan is retiring, but will there be additional changes in their top ranks?

The answer to that question will depend in large part on whether Republicans can hold onto their majority in the November midterms, and if they do, how the speaker’s race unfolds.

Regardless of those outcomes, though, at least one lower-rung elected leadership position will be open with Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer of Indiana exiting the House after a failed Senate bid. The position of Republican Conference vice chair might also be open. Its current occupant, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, is bidding to be the next Judiciary Committee chairman.

The other elected leadership positions include leader, whip, conference chair, National Republican Congressional Committee chair and conference secretary.

In the majority, Republicans would have eight elected leaders and in the minority they would have seven. But there may not be many crowded leadership races given that many GOP members are gunning for open committee chairmanships (or ranking member slots if they lose the House).

Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy is running for speaker or minority leader, depending on the outcome of the election. The California Republican hasn’t officially declared his intentions to run for GOP leader, however, and is unlikely to do so until after the conference’s midterm fate is determined.

Although McCarthy has deliberately deflected questions about his ambitions and avoided talking about the speaker’s race given the uncertainty about who will be in the majority, he recently made his interest in the job clear.

McCarthy was speaking at a Turning Point USA conference in Washington on July 25 about Republican’s efforts to retain the majority when he said: “I do not want to see [Nancy Pelosi] to come back as speaker. I want the next speaker to come from California, but I don’t want it to be Nancy. I want it to be me.”

Ryan has endorsed McCarthy to succeed him, but McCarthy still has to convince conservatives who blocked him from obtaining the needed votes to become speaker in 2015 from doing so again.

Jim Jordan

One problem for McCarthy in corralling conservative support is that Jordan, the founding chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a former Republican Study Committee chairman, is running against him.

Jordan announced his intentions in a Dear Colleague letter on July 26, the day the House adjourned for August recess. The Ohio Republican said his top priority is ensuring Republicans retain the House, noting, “At that time, I plan to run for Speaker of the House to bring real change to Congress.”

While his letter made no mention of whether he would run for minority leader, Jordan seemed to lay the ground-work for that position too by pointing early blame for a potential GOP loss away from President Donald Trump and onto current leadership.

Jordan said Trump had made voters who elected him in 2016 proud but that the Republican congressional majorities have let them down.

“You may feel differently, but I believe we have given the American people reason to question our commitment to reform,” he said, then accusing GOP leaders — without naming them — of giving in too easily to Democrats.

Steve Scalise

The majority whip wants to be speaker one day but has said he would not run against McCarthy. So as long as McCarthy is in the race, Scalise is expected to run for majority leader.

“I’ve never run against Kevin, and wouldn’t run against Kevin,” the Louisiana Republican said in April after Ryan announced his retirement and preemptively told reporters that he and his entire leadership team supported McCarthy as his successor.

Still, the Louisiana Republican has maintained some wiggle room and has been quietly preparing to mount a speaker campaign if McCarthy ends up in a repeat scenario of 2015.

In the minority, Scalise would likely be running for whip again.

Patrick McHenry

The chief deputy whip is an appointed member of leadership, but he holds a more powerful role than some of the lower-rung elected members. The North Carolina Republican is expected to mount a bid for majority whip if McCarthy runs for speaker and Scalise for majority leader.

But McHenry is also frequently floated as a dark horse candidate for speaker should the other hopefuls fail to get enough support.

In the minority, McHenry wouldn’t have an obvious spot in elected leadership so he’d likely have to challenge someone if he wanted to move up. He could also be a top contender for the top Republican spot on the Financial Services Committee, but he is more likely to remain in leadership than opt for that route.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers

The Republican Conference chairwoman also wants to move up in leadership but she’s focused first on winning her own re-election race — she’s the only leader in a district that’s in play — and helping her party maintain the majority.

“I just don’t think that this is the time to be having those kind of conversations,” the Washington Republican said when Fox radio host Brian Kilmeade asked her in May if she would want to be considered a speaker candidate. “We have to make sure that we are staying focused on the policy, the legislation that we have to get passed between now and November … on getting those wins.”

If McCarthy is successful in his speaker bid, the only way McMorris Rodgers could advance beyond her current No. 4 role is by challenging Scalise or McHenry.

Steve Stivers

The NRCC chairman can run for a second term heading the GOP’s campaign arm but he isn’t ready to announce his plans.

“I am solely focused on keeping the House majority, and I am not focused on any of my personal ambitions,” Stivers said in a statement to Roll Call.

The results of the 2018 cycle will undoubtedly influence the Ohio Republican’s final decision on whether he wants to lead the GOP’s campaign arm in the 2020 cycle.

Jason Smith

The Missouri Republican could stand for re-election as conference secretary or see an opening to move up to vice chair if Collins steps aside from leadership to focus on his bid for Judiciary chairman.

Smith’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Gary Palmer

The Alabama Republican is planning to run for Republican Policy Committee chair, a role he thinks his think-tank background would serve him well in. Palmer served 24 years as president of the Alabama Policy Institute and was a founding board member of State Policy Network, a coalition of state-based think-tanks.

“I think it’s an opportunity to utilize that position to operate it like a little think-tank for the conference, to help members who really want to find solutions to some of our more pressing issues to have a place where we can do that,” Palmer said in an interview.

The Freedom Caucus and RSC member cited his work on an amendment that helped save the House GOP’s heath care bill — a proposal to ensure pre-existing conditions coverage through funding state-based high risk pools — as an example of how he can help bridge policy divisions between moderate and conservative Republicans.

Palmer said he’s talked to some colleagues about his interest in policy chair and planned to continue those conversations in the coming months.

David Schweikert

The Arizona Republican, another Freedom Caucus and RSC member, is also interested in running for policy chair and said he’s slowly begun reaching out to his colleagues about it.

“We have a lot of members who have really robust policy ideas, but I’m not sure there’s been a lot of intellectual capital given to sort of thinking through with technology, with sort of a much more modern approach, could you make those policies happen,” he said in an interview.

The Ways and Means Committee member cited an example with the Earned Income Tax Credit, saying lawmakers have discussed wanting to allow taxpayers to access that faster but also reduce fraudulent claims. In discussing ideas, tax-writers have discovered that there is existing technology that would allow the IRS to quickly run data from a claim against certain databases to reduce fraud.

Schweikert sees other areas where technology can be leveraged and the Policy Committee as a place where “more elegant, efficient, simple” solutions to policy issues can be discussed and vetted.

He said he plans to have a conversation with Palmer to see if they can work something out so they’re not running against each other.

Mark Walker

The Republican Study Committee chairman is term limited from serving as head of the House’s largest GOP caucus again, so he is eying a leadership bid.

“We’ve had some people come and ask us to consider a couple positions at this point, so we’re kind of weighing our options and seeing what may happen there, but we haven’t made a final decision,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Walker declined to specify what positions he has been urged to consider or provide a timeline for making a decision, citing the complication of not knowing whether Republicans will be in the majority or in the minority.

“We’re at 50-50 at best right now, we think,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to get to how do these pieces play out.”

GOP women

Few members have talked publicly about leadership races but most names floated privately as potential candidates are GOP women, like Reps. Mimi Walters of California, Ann Wagner of Missouri, Elise Stefanik of New York and Mia Love of Utah.

Walters, Wagner and Stefanik serve in the appointed NRCC leadership roles of deputy chair, fundraising vice chair and recruiting vice chair, respectively. Their campaign roles could serve as launching pads for leadership bids, and some of the women, like Wagner, have already publicly signaled interest.

Love is also active on the campaign trail, trying to help other colleagues who are in challenging races.

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