Labrador cries foul on his leaders

Conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador accused House GOP leaders Tuesday of pulling strings to help Rep. Bill FloresBill FloresA guide to the committees: House GOP's ObamaCare talking points leave many questions unanswered Republicans impatient with anti-Trump civil servants MORE win the election to head the Republican Study Committee, underscoring tensions between Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE’s (R-Ohio) team and the right.

Labrador (R-Idaho) said GOP leaders mounted a whipping operation that included phone calls to help Flores (R-Texas) upset Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, on the second ballot in the race for RSC chairman.

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“It’s always leadership — when leadership gets involved in elections. [They] twisted arms,” Labrador told reporters as he exited the closed-door election.

Rep. Louie GohmertLouie GohmertGiffords's husband to GOP rep: Don't 'hide behind' my wife's shooting to avoid town halls Giffords to lawmakers avoiding town halls: 'Have some courage' GOP rep invokes Giffords shooting as reason not to hold town hall MORE, another Texas Republican, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Labrador conceded he wasn’t exactly sure whether it was BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE or someone else carrying water for Flores. “I don’t know who was leading it,” the Idaho Republican said.

Told by The Hill of Labrador’s accusations, Flores responded: “That’s a false statement.

“It’s not true,” the newly elected chairman continued. “There’s only two people in leadership who have a vote. And two out of 153 votes is not enough to twist arms. And if they were doing it for me, I wouldn’t know about it. I didn’t know anything about it.”

Minutes later, he circled back to Labrador’s accusations.

“I didn’t say I was going to be a shill for them. I think the comments about me being a shill for leadership are beyond the pale,” Flores said.

“I’m going to be pushy, and I’ll have disagreements with [leadership], but those disagreements will be between them and me. They are not going to be for public consumption.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel denied that his boss had any involvement in the election. “The Speaker is not a member of the Republican Study Committee and played no role in the election,” Steel told The Hill.

But two GOP sources said Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), himself a former RSC chairman, skipped Boehner’s hourlong Tuesday leadership meeting, so he could whip votes inside the RSC elections on behalf of Flores, a close political ally.

One source who was in the Cannon Caucus Room, where voting was taking place, said Scalise was pulling some members into the corner of the room to have private conversations with them.

Scalise spokeswoman Moira Smith said it was “completely untrue” that her boss was aggressively whipping votes for Flores.

“He remained neutral throughout the process and personally wished all candidates the best,” Smith said in an email. “The two meetings were scheduled for the same time. As former chairman, he attended the RSC meeting because he is committed to a strong and independent RSC.”

Tuesday’s election was reminiscent of the RSC race two years ago, when Scalise — favored by GOP leadership — defeated Rep. Tom GravesTom GravesA guide to the committees: House Republicans who oppose, support Trump refugee order Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman MORE (R-Ga.), who had the backing of the panel’s more conservative founding members and Tea Party groups. 

The RSC chairman isn’t officially part of Boehner’s leadership team, but the position brings significant influence. Roughly two-thirds of House Republicans belong to the committee, which tries to advance fiscally and socially conservative policies in the broader GOP Conference. Early in Boehner’s tenure as Speaker, the RSC had been a thorn in leadership’s side during intraparty fights over spending and the deficit.

In running for the RSC gavel, Flores, who like Mulvaney was elected in the GOP wave of 2010, had painted his chief opponent as someone who would be “combative” with GOP brass. Flores, on the other hand, said he would work with leadership.

“I campaigned on being a collaborative leader,” Flores said Tuesday, “someone who would listen to everybody, whether it’s everybody in the RSC, or whether it’s working with our leadership to try to advance the most conservative, positive solution.

“By trying to advance the perfect, conservative solution, nobody wins,” he added. “American families don’t get better off.”

Labrador, who lost to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in the race for majority leader this summer, suggested some RSC members could defect from the group over the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Flores said there might be some hurt feelings among some committee members at first, but he expected everyone would eventually rally around, or at least “get comfortable” with, his leadership.

“People are either committed to the RSC, or they’re not,” Flores said. “If they’re committed to the mission statement of the RSC, then they’re going to be happy with me as their chair. If they are committed to another vision, then they may not be happy with me.”

Flores came close to winning the chairmanship outright on the first ballot. He captured 71 votes, while Mulvaney won 55 and Gohmert secured 16.

On the second ballot, Flores defeated Mulvaney 84-57, suggesting most of Gohmert’s loyalists threw their support to fellow Texan Flores.

“Texas is a pretty big state,” said Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksGOP rep: Nuke could enter US hidden in marijuana bales A guide to the committees: House Flynn puts FBI director back in spotlight MORE (R-Ariz.), adding that Flores started with a large base of support.

Mulvaney had backing from some big names in conservative circles, including former 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanIf Democrats want to take back the White House start now GOP grapples with how to handle town halls Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Wis.) and past RSC chairmen Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Mulvaney said he was “disappointed” in the outcome of the race, but congratulated Flores in person after the final tally was read. In a statement, he didn’t mention the remarks of his close Tea Party ally Labrador.

“I am now in the uncomfortable position of having to write about 80 thank-you notes to the 57 people who voted for me. But seriously, I really appreciate the folks who stood by me and placed their trust in my leadership by voting for me,” Mulvaney said. “I look forward to advancing the conservative principles for which the RSC stands.”

Flores succeeds RSC Chairman Rob WoodallRob WoodallA guide to the committees: House Bill to overturn last Obama regulations heads to House floor Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (R-Ga.), who agreed to finish Scalise’s term. The Louisiana Republican stepped down from the top RSC job this past summer, when he was elected majority whip.

— This post was updated at 8:41 p.m.