House Republicans will decide on Thursday whether to respond to the stunning defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) by adding a representative from a deep red state to their leadership team.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) enters the secret ballot as a heavy favorite over Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) to replace Cantor in the second-ranking post, while a three-way race to take his job as the GOP’s chief vote counter headed down to the wire.
The five candidates for the two spots made final, formal pitches to their colleagues on Wednesday, pledging a more inclusive leadership style and to return more power to committees.
Exuding confidence to reporters, Scalise needled his rivals as he made his case that, as a chairman of the Republican Study Committee, he was well-positioned to bring both a conservative voice and red-state votes to the leadership table.
In a lightly attended private conference meeting in the Capitol basement, Roskam sought to overcome his liability as yet another party leader from a blue state by tapping into the frustration Republican activists voiced with their votes in defeating Cantor last week.
“Our base has lost confidence in us,” Roskam said, according to a person in the room. “Our base doesn’t feel like we reflect their frustration, reflect their rage. We need to communicate our deep convictions to our constituents.”
In the whip race, the candidates’ focus turned to a possible second ballot if none of the three candidates earned a majority of the 233-member conference on the first vote.
“We’re in a really good spot, and we’re going to continue working to get votes from the few undecideds that are remaining,” Scalise said as he left the meeting. “I’m not going to stop until this race is over.”
“We’ve always said, whether there’s a first ballot, second ballot, if there’s a third ballot, we’re working all the way through, and we’ve got a plan for each contingency,” he added.
Scalise’s camp has claimed to have around 100 votes, and a top Roskam supporter, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), said the Illinois Republican had around 90, up from 60 last week. Stutzman’s bloc is smaller, drawn from the conference’s most ardent conservatives.
The vote is a secret ballot, and Hudson said each team had to account for the “fudge factor” of members who commit their support to multiple candidates.
“We feel really good about the second ballot,” Hudson said of Roskam’s camp. “I don’t know if we’re at 120 yet, but we feel really good about the second ballot.”
Stutzman, considered the dark-horse candidate for majority whip, argued a second round of voting would help him.
“I think we get to the second ballot. All bets are off,” Stutzman said. “Once we get to the second ballot, people are gonna say, ‘You know what? Whoa. I didn’t realize.’ ”
Scalise is gunning for an outright win, and he knocked his opponents’ push to force a second ballot. “If your opponent’s main strategy is to come in second, then I’m here to help them achieve their goal,” he told reporters.
Roskam, currently McCarthy’s chief deputy, ignored questions from reporters after the meeting. Illustrating his challenge, even in a second ballot, were two undecided Republicans, Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Walter Jones (N.C.), who told The Hill they would vote for either Scalise or Stutzman but not Roskam.
The elections are Thursday at 2 p.m., and the candidate forum was one of many private meetings the contenders zipped in and out of as they scoured the conference for increasingly scarce undecided voters.
While the whip race is more competitive, it was the long-shot Labrador who used his speech to sharply criticize the current leadership team.
Recalling a conversation he had with Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), a supporter, he said many members felt irrelevant, and he complained that the leadership lacked a “clear, bold vision.” The GOP majority, he said, had broken its promise to make bills public for three days before voting on them.
Labrador ran through a number of policy and procedural grievances that conservatives have aired about the current leadership team of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Cantor and McCarthy.
“I don’t want any more SGR bills passing on voice votes, Transportation/Postal Reform deals that nobody has heard of, NSA reform bills that pass a committee unanimously and are changed and watered down in the Rules Committee,” he said, according to prepared remarks released by his office. “If we don’t trust leadership, how can we trust each other?”
Members asked McCarthy and Labrador about a long list of procedural and policy issues, including whether they would commit to the so-called “Hastert rule” mandating that only bills with majority Republican support come up for a vote.
According to Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), McCarthy quipped that he would adhere to his own, “McCarthy rule”: “Get as many votes as you can.”
In response to another question, members said, McCarthy told lawmakers he would defer to the Financial Services Committee on the Export-Import Bank, which expires at the end of September and has become a flashpoint between establishment and Tea Party Republicans. Cantor helped negotiate the last extension of the lending agency, while Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) wants to let its charter expire.
The push for more inclusiveness and committee authority was embraced by each of the candidates, members said.
“There’s a lot of concern about regular order, about members being relevant, members having a voice,” Hudson said. “I heard from all five candidates a commitment to that.”
The conference turned aside, with a loud “No!” voice vote, a motion by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to delay the leadership elections by a week.
“We’re rushing into this,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Yoho is backing Labrador and Stutzman, two candidates who are lesser known to their colleagues than the more established McCarthy and Roskam.
“I’ve got members coming up to me and saying, ‘I don’t know Raúl. I don’t know Marlin,’ ” Yoho said. “And for us to rush into that, I just think it’s wrong.”