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June 20, 2014

House GOP Leadership Elections Go About As Expected

Yesterday House Republicans replaced Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader with the more moderate and more pro-amnesty Kevin McCarthy of California. That left a vacancy in the Whip position that was won by Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise's victory on the first ballot was the one minor surprise. Many thought the race would go to a second ballot match up with the more liberal Peter Roskam of Illinois. The candidate seen as the most conservative choice, Marlin Stutzman of Illinois was a long shot who would only draw enough votes to force a second ballot. The GOP conference did not release vote totals but considering that Scalise won on the first ballot, he clearly had wide support in the caucus (maybe even the moderates realized that the conservatives needed a win and the GOP leadership team had to have one deep red state member).

The problem is while the Whip is part of the leadership team, his real job is to find the votes for what Speaker John Boehner, McCarthy and committee chairmen come up with. This could lead to normal moderate policies being sold as coming with conservative agreement because, "hey one of your guys is in leadership".

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said Scalise would make a great whip, but doubted he would be able to steer the agenda in a different direction.

“You have to keep in mind, I did vote for Scalise, even though I don’t think he satisfies the need to have somebody in leadership who can have conversations with the conservative part of the conference,” Massie said.

How hard will Scalise push for conservative potions? His time as the head of the Republican Study Group is worrying.

Scalise, they said, would instruct his office to soften criticism of even policies he personally disagreed with in order to reduce political exposure to the RSC's fairly broad membership – as well as make life easier for GOP leadership. A leading point of contention were the RSC's “legislative bulletins,” which include detailed summaries of each bill and amendment, including any “conservative concerns” the RSC had about those bills.

The guides have long been valued reading to GOP lawmakers, and under past chairmen, the bulletins had the power to sway a lot of votes. But the documents have become watered down under Scalise, former aides said.

“Staff were encouraged as a whole not to issue conservative concerns. It created almost a policy of appeasement in RSC with a clear goal of trying to elevate Scalise personally,” says a former RSC staffer who chafed under the restrictions.

“Trying to get conservative concerns in a legislative bulletin at all under Chairman Scalise was practically impossible,” a second former RSC staffer said.

We can make the perfect the enemy of...the better so I think it's fair to give Scalise a shot and see how he does. The real challenge is to elect more conservatives. Until you have a majority of the caucus, you are going to see more moderate members running the place. Nancy Pelosi didn't become Speaker because the Democrat caucus was filled with moderates. If it was she would have never been elected to leadership. She reflected her members and so does the GOP leadership.

There is one problem however that the current crop of conservatives need to address. That best they could do in the Majority Leader race was a last minute, long shot run from amnesty supporter Raoul Labrador is troubling.

Philip Klein argues this lack of conservative leadership might not be by accident.


The way things have gone in major legislative battles over the past several years (such as with the debt ceiling, government funding bills, and the “fiscal cliff” tax deal) is that House conservatives have consistently voted against compromises. This has led House leadership to cut deals that can pass the House with the help of Democratic support.

This dynamic has allowed House conservatives to maintain a ruse. They can go back to their constituents and perpetuate the myth of themselves as brave freedom fighters standing up for conservative principles against a wobbly GOP leadership that’s gone native in the Washington swamp. Meanwhile, because House leadership cut deals, House conservatives didn’t have to deal with the consequences of bond markets freaking out because Congress never raised the debt limit, or of a taxpayer backlash because rates went up on all income levels once all of the Bush tax cuts expired.

Conservative House members would no longer have it so easy if staunch conservatives were to seize control of House leadership. So, at the end of the day, they’re perfectly happy with the Boehner-McCarthy team.

I think the key thing to remember don't fall in love with politicians because they don't really care about you. They will sell you whatever bill of goods they think you will buy to keep them in office. Treat them for what they are, chess pieces. Use them to get what you want, discard them when that advances your cause.

They seem to have decided that Cantor's loss has nothing to do with them. That just means they aren't scared enough yet. And that's why voting for anyone with an R after their name only guarantees more of the same.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:22 AM

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