GOP committee race down to McMorris Rodgers, Kline

House GOP leadership sources say that the three-way race for ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee, to be decided on Wednesday, will come down to Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.).

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is the third contender for the plum spot that opened last week when the GOP Steering Committee appointed current Education and Labor ranking member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to take the helm at Armed Services. That spot opened up after President Obama appointed the panel’s previous ranking member, John McHugh (R-N.Y.), to be the next secretary of the Army.

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But both Kline and McMorris Rodgers have key ties on the 28-member Steering Committee that will choose the next ranking member. Kline is a strong ally of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has five votes on the panel.

McMorris Rodgers currently sits on the Steering panel in her role as the vice chairwoman of the GOP conference. But the fifth-ranking House Republican said she won’t be able to vote in the race, due to internal conference rules.

But even if she doesn’t get to vote, Steering Committee member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), former head of the House Republicans' campaign arm, tells The Hill that “she has a seat at the table, which is a pretty powerful thing.”

Some lawmakers on the Steering Committee expect Wilson to win a number of votes — he is the most senior member in contention and has a solid reputation for supporting leadership — though not enough to pull off a victory.

The relatively less-senior committee members vying for the top spot recognize that the Education and Labor panel will face a heavy workload over the next year and a half.

At a time when House Republicans suffer from a lack of women in top-ranking committee positions, McMorris Rodgers tells The Hill that she intends to tie the GOP need to fill that void with the fact that she is a mother of a child with special needs — which she says gives her a special connection with the panel that oversees education and women's issues. In addition, she has worked on labor issues since serving in the Washington State Legislature.

Kline, a former Marine colonel in his fourth term in Congress, has played important leadership roles in his time on the panel with wide-ranging jurisdiction over important matters, including pension reform. In 2006 he sat on the conference committee that overhauled laws on private pension plans specifically related to the airline companies.

Wilson, also in his fourth term, has focused more on education issues during his time on the panel.

Wilson, Kline and McMorris Rodgers rank relatively low in seniority on the GOP's committee roster.

The panel's most senior members interested in the position bowed out late last week. Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Mark Souder (R-Ind.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) all had expressed interest in the job but dropped out when it became apparent that leaders weren't putting a high premium on seniority when they select the Republican who will sit opposite the committee's outspoken, liberal chairman, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

Castle would not promise to run for reelection to the House in 2008 if he was made ranking member of the committee. The Delaware Republican is still considering a run for Senate in 2010.