By Bernie Becker and Erik Wasson - 11/15/12 12:48 AM EST
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) was elected chairwoman of the House GOP conference on Wednesday, a victory for party leaders over insurgent conservatives.
McMorris Rodgers had received the quiet support of the highest-ranking GOP lawmakers in her closely watched contest against Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a favorite among conservatives.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) will replace McMorris Rodgers as the conference’s vice chairwoman, and Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), a conservative firebrand, will slide into the conference-secretary position.
Rep.-elect Ann Wagner (Mo.) will be the freshman representatives on leadership, putting a total of four women on the GOP leadership team.
Those elections came after Republicans from across the country said they needed to find new ways to reach out to women and minorities, after Democrats pounded the GOP on social issues throughout the most recent campaign.
Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) will remain in the top three slots among House Republicans in the upcoming Congress, as expected.
Senate Republicans elected a slate of white men to their top five leadership positions on Wednesday, and some GOP lawmakers feared the House would follow suit.
But following her victory, McMorris Rodgers brushed aside suggestions that her victory had any broader symbolism, and instead said she had proved herself to the conference after two terms in the conference’s No. 5 slot.
“The Republican Party has a great record when it comes to women, and promoting issues that are important to women and all Americans,” McMorris Rodgers told reporters after a news conference at the Capitol. “When you look at issues that are important to women, at the top of the list continues to be the economy and jobs and those issues.”
But others in the party did say it was important to have women in high-profile positions, and an advantage as the GOP tries to expand its electoral base.
“Our women leaders are uniquely positioned to talk directly to Americans who don’t usually associate with Republicans,” a House GOP leadership aide said. “It’s a positive change for the conference.”
Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.), who nominated McMorris Rodgers for the conference chairmanship, added that Republicans still believed voters preferred their approach but that the party needs to find fresh ways to communicate that vision.
“As we go out and reach new voters, as we sort of break down the silos that we couldn’t penetrate this past election, she’s somebody that can communicate our message to voters we need to be reaching,” Gardner told The Hill.
Price, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, had the support of Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the recent GOP nominee for vice president, and Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the outgoing conference chairman.
Ryan told The Hill after the closed-door elections that he was not disappointed in Price’s loss, which some commentators said hurt Ryan’s clout in the conference.
“Not at all. Cathy is going to be great. Tom is just a good friend,” he said.
As part of her pitch to fellow Republicans, McMorris Rodgers cited her fundraising chops and her work using social media to help circulate the Republican message.
She had the support of several GOP committee leaders in her bid, including Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), the head of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Boehner also announced Wednesday that he had nominated Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) to chair the House Rules Committee for the 113th Congress, replacing Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who did not seek reelection this year.
For their part, Democrats latched on to the Republicans’ decision to keep their top leaders for a second consecutive Congress, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee saying the GOP had “reelected the same failed Tea Party Republican leadership.”