GOP House members begin jockeying for leadership spots

The close of the House campaign Tuesday night signaled the start of another — the race for leadership posts in the GOP-led 112th Congress.

Within hours of House Republicans’ major victory, the battle for the conference chairmanship quickly heated up, after third-ranking Republican Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) said he would not seek the role a second term.

 

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Pence’s political ally and close friend, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), was the first to say he would run, but the candidacy of Tea Party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) promised to set up a battle royale for the position of head House Republican cheerleader.

It also raised a question Republicans grappled with on the campaign trail, and have yet to answer as they prepare to govern in the House: what role the Tea Party movement, and members elected under its ideological umbrella, will play in the new Congress.

“It’s clear from last night’s results that constitutional conservatives have won races across the country, and that constitutional conservatives need a clear voice within the GOP conference, and Michele will provide that,” Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor said in an interview.

House GOP Leader Rep. John Boehner (Ohio), who is running unopposed for Speaker, has stayed out of the race, but a source close to leadership says he would “not stand for” having Bachmann as the fourth-ranking House Republican.

Bachmann confidante and fellow Tea Party-favorite Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Bachmann’s decision to run for the post had been weeks in the making.

King was working the phones to round up support for Bachmann, after “she finally agreed” several days ago to run for the position.

“The new majority makers are the constitutional conservatives in the country — under that label fit all the Tea Party organizations and newly activated constitutionalists, whether they have a label or not, and Michele Bachmann is the right voice for that,” King said in an interview.

In a letter to Republicans explaining the decision not to seek the chairmanship, Pence, who is expected to run for other office in 2012, did not endorse anyone — though later Wednesday he backed Hensarling.

“During his years as chairman of the House conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee, Jeb Hensarling demonstrated his willingness to challenge Republican leaders and members to embrace a vision for limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values. I heartily endorse Jeb Hensarling for House Republican Conference chairman,” Pence said in a statement.

Current GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), who is running unopposed to be House majority leader, endorsed Hensarling shortly after his bid was announced.

In his statement announcing the decision to run, Hensarling said, “[M]y vision for [the] conference is a simple one: unity, empowerment and service. Over the next two weeks, I will share that vision with my colleagues and over 60 new Republican members-elect and humbly seek their support.”

The race for majority whip could also heat up, if National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) opts to enter the race against current Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who formally announced his run Wednesday afternoon.

According to sources familiar with the situation, McCarthy, who led the GOP candidate-recruitment effort, spent much of the day contacting fellow House Republicans to drum up support for his bid to become the third-ranking Republican in the 112th Congress.

Though Sessions has expressed interest in pursuing the job of whip, he had not officially tossed his hat into the ring, leaving some to speculate that he may remain in his current role as head of the House GOP campaign arm.

A source close to Sessions said he is “enjoying the victories of this election” and “in the coming days, he plans to discuss with his colleagues how he can best serve his party and country.”

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, McCarthy outlined several goals he’d pursue as whip, including keeping what is now a significantly larger conference “unified” and fostering better communication as the conference moves ahead in a potentially “hostile” environment.

In other jockeying for posts, Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) announced his intention to run for the GOP policy chairman position currently held by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.).

Earlier this year, McCotter advocated eliminating the position in leadership, but according to sources, the post will remain. Other possible opponents for Price include Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

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Current Conference Vice-Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who considered running for the GOP conference chairmanship if Pence did not seek the position, opted to run for reelection to her current leadership job. According to a source familiar with the situation, the popular Washington state Republican decided not to seek Pence’s job after talking with GOP leaders on Wednesday.

Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) left open the possibility of running for GOP conference secretary on Wednesday after he released a statement indicating his intention not to seek Pence’s position. In his statement, Chaffetz endorsed Boehner for Speaker, Cantor for leader, McCarthy for whip, Hensarling for conference chairman, McMorris Rodgers for vice chairwoman and Price for policy chairman.

Texas Rep. John Carter (R), who has held the position of conference secretary for the past four years, has already started to whip support for the job, according to a member who received a call from Carter this week.