GOP Rep. Scalise elected RSC chairman, pledges to pull leadership 'to the right’

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has been elected to head the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) in the 113th Congress.

Scalise beat out Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) in a rebuke to the committee’s founding members, who had unanimously recommended Graves for the post.

Scalise, who just won reelection to his third term in the House, replaces Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who led the group the last two years.

The vote tally of the more than 160 RSC members was not released, but Jordan told The Hill that it was “within a few votes.”

“I wasn’t going to be surprised either way,” said Jordan, who had backed Graves. “When you got two good guys running, two good candidates, you know it’s going to be close.”

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Comprising more than two-thirds of the House Republican conference, the RSC membership represents the largest non-party bloc in Congress and has played a key role in the debate over spending and the deficit in recent years. It ran afoul of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly in 2011, leading to criticism from some quarters that the committee was undermining the party leadership.

Scalise was seen as the more favorable pick for the GOP leadership, less likely than Graves to continue as confrontational an approach. In the days since the election, Boehner has pushed for the conference to stay united as he prepares for negotiations on the fiscal cliff.

Scalise told reporters after the vote that his goal as RSC chairman would be to pull the leadership “as far to the right” as possible and get conservative solutions enacted into law.

“There are going to be times when we disagree with our leadership, but ultimately, we’ve got to work hard to pull our leadership to the right,” Scalise said, “and to move a conservative agenda forward and unite as conservatives if we’re going to get things done.”

“It’s our job to be the conservative rudder of the conference,” he added. “It always has been, regardless of who is Speaker.”

He noted that he and Boehner had “not seen eye-to-eye on some things,” and said he had spoken to the Speaker, who is not a member of RSC, about his bid for chairman.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is a member of the committee and attended the election Thursday, but he did not speak, Jordan said.

“Steve Scalise is a strong conservative,” Jordan said in an interview. “The RSC is going to be the RSC. I’m confident in Steve’s ability to stand firm for conservative Republican principles as well.”

A Graves backer, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), said he was “surprised” but not “shocked” at the outcome. The full membership of the committee previously overruled the recommendation of the founding members several years ago, when it elected Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) as chairman over Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). 

The loss is the second for the Georgia delegation in as many days. On Wednesday, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) lost his bid for conference chairman to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). 

“We took a hit. We did. We’re 0-for,” Gingrey said with a laugh.

— This story was first posted at 1:44 p.m. and has been updated.