Conservative leader says GOP not punishing right-leaning members

A key conservative lawmaker says he does not believe that House Republican leaders are penalizing right-leaning legislators by removing them from high-profile committees. 

Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the incoming chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), told The Hill that the removal of GOP Reps. David Schweikert (Ariz.), Justin Amash (Mich.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) and Walter Jones (N.C.) from plum committee spots had nothing to do with ideology. 

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Scalise pointed to the ascension of conservative Tea Party favorites to top-notch committees. 

“What they fail to mention is that [Rep.] Mick Mulvaney [R-S.C.] got a seat on Financial Services; [Rep.] Raul Labrador [R-Idaho] was fighting real hard to get elevated to Judiciary Committee so he can be more involved in the debate on immigration, and he got that post, so I don’t think anybody would question the conservative credentials of Mick or Raul,” Scalise said. 

Huelskamp, Sarah Palin and conservative interest groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks lambasted the GOP leadership for the committee changes. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the outgoing RSC chairman, told Breitbart News, “It’s unfortunate and unhealthy for our party that principled conservatives are being punished for voting their consciences and keeping the promises they made to their constituents.”


Scalise, however, is declining to enter the fray.

He recently defeated Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) to become the next head of the RSC, which bills itself as the “conservative conscience” of the GOP. His victory was a surprise, especially because Graves has a more conservative voting record and was endorsed by former RSC chairmen.

But coming off of a tough election for conservatives, some in the RSC tell The Hill that they wanted to have a more “pragmatic conservative” in the role as ideological standard-bearer. 

Freshman Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who was awarded a seat on the Financial Services Committee, said that Scalise spoke of building unity following a difficult election. 

“Steve acknowledged that we had just gotten beat in an election, and now more than ever we have to coalesce as a conservative organization,” Ross said, while refraining from disclosing which candidate he endorsed. 

A separate member of the RSC told The Hill on the condition of anonymity that Scalise came across as the candidate who could work with leadership to get something done, not tick them off. 

“The RSC is supposed to be about making good legislation better in the House, advocating for a more conservative position so we are in a position of strength when we negotiate with the Senate. I think that’s where Steve’s head is, so he’s not looking to embarrass leadership, he just wants to promote a fiscally conservative agenda that makes sense. That’s not right-wing bomb-throwing,” the lawmaker said. 

Conservative interest groups and bloggers have taken note of Scalise’s less confrontational style.

“If Congressman Scalise sells out conservatives in the House to work with House leadership who’ve just sold out their own principles in the name of looking reasonable, conservatives will need to find a new home outside the Republican Study Committee,” Erick Erickson, editor of the right-leaning Redstate.com blog, wrote on Tuesday. 

But Scalise disputed that notion.

“In the end you look at Mick and Raul getting elevated to positions that they wanted, so, while some went down, some went up. It was more an individual thing. It had nothing to do with conservatism. Otherwise, Mick and Raul wouldn’t be where they are,” Scalise explained.

Jones, meanwhile, has a centrist voting record. He has been a vocal critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars while also voting with Democrats on some high-profile bills. 

A source in the GOP leadership said that the four members removed from committee assignments are not “team players. Leadership can appreciate when lawmakers vote against a certain bill,” but that they have little patience for rank-and-file members who publicly call out other members of the House GOP conference for voting with leadership. 

Ross agrees with that point: “If it really was a result of their conservative votes, I would be amongst them, in fact … they wouldn’t have put me on Financial Services. You look at my voting record compared to their voting record and I’m not any less conservative, maybe even more conservative.”

Many RSC members are confident Scalise, who voted against the 2008 Wall Street rescue plan, will do a good job. 

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who backed Graves, said, “I think he is a principled conservative who has the competence and the grounding to be an outstanding RSC chairman.”

The RSC has more than 160 members.

— This story was corrected on Dec. 5 to reflect that Rep. Dennis Ross will join the Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.