By Cameron Joseph - 03/22/12 01:20 AM EDT
Rank-and-file House Republicans are furious that party leadership took sides in a primary battle that led to the ouster of a longtime lawmaker.
And at least one member said there was a possibility of mutiny.
“Some members are angry,” said the House Republican, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly. “If leaders get involved … I think they risk a revolt.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Kinzinger — an unusual move, as party leaders typically don’t get involved in these types of contests.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not endorse the freshman lawmaker and his team vehemently denied any involvement in the race, but two Republican lawmakers close to Boehner said he'd privately made his preference clear.
"Everybody was involved," said one member of leadership when asked which GOP leaders had backed Kinzinger.
The interference had the GOP conference buzzing Wednesday, especially with other member-versus-member primaries looming: Arizona freshman Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert; Louisiana Reps. Charles Boustany Jr. and Jeff Landry; and Florida Reps. John Mica and Sandy Adams.
Members of leadership have hinted whom they support in some of these races: Boehner donated to Boustany in December, after it became clear he and Landry would face off.
House leaders have also appeared to favor Quayle over Schweikert: Boehner donated to Quayle late last year; Schweikert was removed from the GOP whip team shortly after he was given the prestigious role (for reportedly voting against leadership); and, earlier this year, House leaders took an amendment originally sponsored by Schweikert and gave it to Quayle.
The deep-pocketed, fiscally conservative Club for Growth, angry at the leadership’s interference, fired off a warning letter Wednesday morning, telling it to stay out of the Arizona contest.
“Should it become apparent that you are choosing sides on behalf of Rep. Quayle, the Club for Growth PAC will consider it necessary to intervene on behalf of Rep. Schweikert,” wrote President Chris Chocola. “We will not sit back and allow House Republican leaders to invest resources with impunity against an incumbent fiscal conservative.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), another member of House leadership, called the Club’s decision “disappointing.”
“I’d like to think we were pulling more in the same direction,” she told The Hill.
Boehner’s political team has gone out of its way in recent days to stress its neutrality in member-on-member races. In Illinois, the Speaker donated to Kinzinger, then also cut a check to Manzullo in the final days of the campaign.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner’s political operation, told The Hill that Schweikert had recently requested a donation from Boehner's leadership political action committee.
“We recently received a contribution request from Rep. Schweikert’s campaign, and it’s being processed,” Fritz said. “The Speaker is neutral in member-versus-member primaries.”
And a super-PAC affiliated with Cantor, which spent on Kinzinger’s behalf, is unlikely to get involved in more member match-ups. The YG Action Fund hasn’t sent any signals it will get involved in any of the other races, and is highly unlikely to do so if Cantor stays publicly neutral.
Cantor did not address the Kinzinger-Manzullo race on Wednesday, despite his victory there, and his office did not respond to requests for comment.
Manzullo was not made available for interviews on Wednesday.
Schweikert, meanwhile, told The Hill he’d mostly been treated well by House leaders.
He acknowledged House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was angry at him when he left the whip team but noted it had been “one of those mutual choices where we agreed to disagree” and added that McCarthy had treated him fairly since. He expressed anger about what he called the “plagiarized” amendment, but said he hadn’t asked who had done it.
“I’m not sure I really want to know,” he said. “This way I’m not mad at anyone.”
When asked about the Club for Growth’s statement, Schweikert said: “In some ways it’s sort of sad. It requires an outside group to step up and say, ‘We want you guys to stay out of it.’ ”
One member of the GOP House leadership who requested anonymity told The Hill that Kinzinger was likely an exception to the unspoken rule about not getting involved in member match-ups. The lawmaker said Kinzinger was a particular favorite of the GOP leadership and that it was unlikely there’d be any more public endorsements in member-versus-member primaries.
“Each race has its own unique parameters, and so you find the people are more interested or less interested in certain races,” the member said. “Kinzinger’s race is a little different.”
Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a freshman member of House leadership, praised Cantor for his public endorsement and said that other Republican leaders were quietly rooting for Kinzinger to win.
“Whether they come out in front or not, they’re involved,” Scott told The Hill Wednesday afternoon. “The question is, do they ever have the courage to be where [Cantor] was? It was a courageous decision.”
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) also defended Cantor. He told The Hill that he’d always stayed neutral in member-versus-member primaries but that Cantor had a duty to keep an eye out for the party’s future.
“If I was still Speaker I would probably stay out of these races. However, if I was majority leader and my responsibility was to bring along the future of the party, then sometimes you’ve got to make some tough decisions … The bottom line is if you’re going to get involved you better win, and they did.”
This story was last updated at 11:48 a.m.