Leader’s exit fuels worry for centrist Republicans

Leader’s exit fuels worry for centrist Republicans
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Does the Tuesday Group have a future in Washington?

The retirement of co-chairman Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) leaves members of the moderate Republican bloc without a clear leader going forward.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and the Main Street Partnership are growing in size and influence. Main Street, which bills itself as a group of 70 “pragmatic” Republicans, last week said it’s creating a new caucus that will be chaired by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio).  

“Problem Solvers and Main Street are starting to assert themselves more, which dilutes some member interest in the Tuesday Group,” one Tuesday Group member told The Hill. “That’s my sense of where things are trending.”

Yet it remains to be seen how many House Republican moderates will be left to lead after next year’s elections. Some are expected to retire rather than run for reelection in a political environment that seems to be trending toward the Democrats.

On Monday, Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.) became the third Tuesday Group member in two weeks to announce his retirement, following Dent and Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertMcCarthy: Virginia election ‘makes me nervous’ 12 House Republicans object to Alaska refuge oil drilling proposal Ads target House Republicans over tax reform MORE (R-Wash.) out the door. Former Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in April she wouldn’t seek another term, ending a nearly 30-year career in Washington.

Many more could be headed for the exits.

“Some of us may not be back to replace [Dent] even if we wanted to,” the same Tuesday Group member said.

Dent’s decision not to seek reelection in 2018 deals an enormous blow to the 52-member Tuesday Group. He’s helped lead the group for the last decade, and his words carried weight.

He’s led the House Ethics Committee since 2015, taking on the delicate task of investigating his colleagues. Dent has also served as a powerful chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans issues, controlling tens of billions of dollars in spending each year.

And few in the GOP have better communications skills. Always armed with a pithy quote, usually aimed at Trump or Freedom Caucus conservatives, Dent regularly appears on the cable news circuit and spars with reporters in the Speaker’s lobby.

“There’s no way to replace the voice and sway that Dent has. No way at all,” said one Republican source on Capitol Hill.

At 33, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who co-chairs the Tuesday Group with Dent, is seen as a fresh voice and rising star. But she’s kept a fairly low profile during her first three years in Congress and might not be ready to be the public face of centrist Republicans.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) had a brief stint as the third Tuesday Group chairman. But in May, he was forced out of that role after he ignored repeated warnings from his members and cut a deal with conservative Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill. MacArthur remains persona non grata for many Tuesday Group lawmakers.

While members won’t choose a new Tuesday Group co-chairman until after November 2018, two lawmakers are already said to be interested in the job: Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).

Neither is well known in the Capitol or on the national stage. Katko, in his second term, is a former assistant U.S. attorney from Syracuse. But there may be reluctance to  have both Tuesday Group co-chairs hail from upstate New York. Katko’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Lance, a fifth-term lawmaker who’s spent most of his career in New Jersey politics, demurred when asked if he wanted to lead the Tuesday Group after Dent’s departure.

“He is our leader. I wish him all the best, and I’m sure he will be involved significantly in public policy outside the Congress,” Lance told The Hill. “I believe that it will be very difficult to replace the tremendous leadership of Congressman Dent.

“But I think we have very fine members.”

The Tuesday Group, founded after the 1994 Republican Revolution, has in more recent years served as a counterweight to the GOP’s two more conservative groups: the Republican Study Committee and the Freedom Caucus.

And while Tuesday Group members have a long record of working across the aisle, the group is only open to Republicans. So with the GOP agenda mired in gridlock, the leaders of the bipartisan, bicameral Problem Solvers Caucus, Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), have spotted an opening.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, which has not been as active or visible in recent years, has been pumping out press releases and pushing for changes to ObamaCare to help stabilize insurance markets. The group held a news conference on health care just last week with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

In a brief interview, Reed said he believes there is plenty of room for the Problem Solvers, the Tuesday Group and the Main Street Partnership to co-exist. After all, he’s a member of all three.

“Each serves a role in the rise of the governing,” Reed told The Hill. “Problem Solvers, however, will grow even stronger as providing a counterweight to the extremes of both parties.”