By Molly K. Hooper - 06/15/09 07:43 PM EDT
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is torn between supporting two close allies in the three-way race to become the top Republican on the Education and Labor Committee.
For the first time since serving on the GOP Steering Committee as leader, Boehner — who has five votes — may divide his votes between Rep. John Kline (Minn.) and House GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), lawmakers requesting anonymity said.
Even if “the leader were to split his five votes and give two to McMorris Rodgers and three to Kline, or vice-versa, wouldn’t he still in effect be choosing one candidate over the other? What would be the point?” the GOP staffer who follows Steering Committee matters said.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is also vying for the spot that opened when another Boehner ally, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), won the race for Armed Services ranking member last Tuesday. Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) gave up that perch when President Obama nominated him to be the secretary of the Army.
Historically the Republican leader has decided the outcome of contests to be the top Republican on House panels. The Steering Committee will make a decision on the committee race on Wednesday.
Boehner, a former chairman of the education committee, refuses to discuss the race publicly.
Both McMorris Rodgers and Kline supported Boehner early on in his successful bid in 2006 to become majority leader. Wilson publicly backed Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in that contest.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said that Boehner is in a tough position because he’s deciding between individuals on “his home turf.”
Boehner has been taking a number of factors into consideration: which member will go toe-to-toe with the committee’s forceful Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and how important it is to place a woman in the top spot.
McMorris Rodgers has been making it well known that Republicans need more women at the helm of committees, several Steering Committee members said.
The 40-year-old lawmaker said as much in an interview with The Hill on Friday.
“I’ve been working on card check [legislation titled the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)] for our conference, especially with the Republican women and women business owners regarding card check and have met with them to talk about doing some more to highlight it from a women’s perspective.”
According to GOP officials, Boehner has considered the lack of GOP women at the top of panels a sore point.
In 2006, he told Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) that he would have won a bid to be chairman of what was then called the International Relations Committee if Royce “wore a skirt.” The Steering Committee gave that job to the panel’s current ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who had seniority over Royce.
Miller may be a more important factor in deciding the next ranking member.
Miller, one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) top lieutenants, is a shrewd legislator and can be a partisan bomb- thrower.
He is a staunch advocate for the EFCA and broadening other labor rights.
Though the House handily passed EFCA during the last Congress, Miller is waiting for the Senate to act on the bill first.
Kline, a retired Marine colonel, leads Republicans on the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee that has been dealing extensively with EFCA.
The 61-year-old Vietnam veteran points out that he’s ranking member of the subcommittee that is “the battleground where the major labor contests are fought. I am particularly engaged in advancing priorities for workers and their employers.”
McMorris Rodgers, who is a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, said, “I think I’m a nice contrast to George Miller because I can relate to moms and families.”
She is the panel’s most junior member vying for the spot, ranking 13th in seniority on the GOP side of the committee. Kline is 10th and Wilson is 9th.
Regardless of which candidate Boehner throws his weight behind, all three contenders have been aggressively lobbying other members of the Steering Committee.
Kline says that he feels confident about the number of committed votes he has secured.
Wilson continues to work his colleagues for support as well, but members of the Steering Committee predict the race will come down to Boehner’s longtime allies.
McMorris Rodgers sits on the Steering Committee but under Conference rules, she will not have a vote in this particular contest, GOP leadership aides say.
But the three-term congresswoman said that she has been working out a deal with other leaders so that her vote is, in fact, counted.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has two votes and has not announced whom he will support.
This article was amended on June 16 at 10 a.m.