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Conservative lawmakers met to discuss GOP chairman’s ouster

Conservative lawmakers met to discuss GOP chairman’s ouster
© Greg Nash

Leaders of the conservative Republican Study Committee met last week and discussed their desire to oust Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenExiting lawmakers put in calls to K Street Ex-New York Jets lineman mulling run for House SEC paperless mandate a bad deal for rural, elderly investors MORE as Appropriations chairman after the New Jersey Republican voted against the GOP tax-reform bill, The Hill has learned.

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP pushes hard-line immigration plan as Senate deals fail Ex-GOP lawmaker: Vote Republicans out of office if you want mass shootings stopped Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-La.), a former Republican Study Committee (RSC) chairman who’s now the party’s chief vote-counter, participated in that discussion last Thursday, GOP sources said.

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The very next morning, RSC Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFlorida shooting reopens CDC gun research debate Right revolts on budget deal Judge overturns ex-felon voting rights process in Florida MORE (R-N.C.) and another RSC leader huddled with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) in his office and informed him that it was the “consensus” of RSC leadership that Frelinghuysen needs to go. The RSC leaders cited Frelinghuysen’s “no” vote on the tax-cuts bill last month and his waffling over ObamaCare repeal earlier this year.

Frelinghuysen had initially told reporters he would oppose the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but he eventually voted for the repeal and replace legislation after some arm-twisting by leadership.

“Having a chairman basically going rogue on the two most important issues we’ve promised … To me, there’s a line there,” Walker told The Hill in an interview Tuesday.

“The RSC has discussed his situation, has concerns and now has officially met with leadership over those concerns,” Walker added.

Asked if he brought his concerns directly to Ryan, Walker replied: “Yes, we have. The RSC Steering Committee appointed or asked two of us to meet with the Speaker over that concern.”

But the pair of RSC leaders did not threaten Ryan, instead telling the Speaker the ball was in his court, a GOP source said.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Frelinghuysen told The Hill he had not taken part in any conversations about his future as chairman before rushing onto the floor for votes. His spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong also declined to comment for this story.

On the day of the House tax vote, Walker had signaled to The Hill that he was incredibly frustrated with Frelinghuysen’s “no” vote on tax. There are unspoken GOP rules that Appropriations Committee chairmen such as Frelinghuysen vote with the team on key issues like tax reform, the party’s No. 1 legislative priority.

Still, Frelinghuysen is a top Democratic target in 2018 and the 12-term congressman had warned that the bill’s elimination of key tax deductions could cause many of his constituents to pay higher taxes.

Walker’s latest remarks come a day after Politico reported Ryan and his leadership team had discussed over the Thanksgiving recess convening the GOP committee in charge of picking chairmen and forcing a vote on whether Frelinghuysen should keep his powerful gavel.

But leadership hasn’t made any final decisions.

And Walker suggested Frelinghuysen’s fate is “still to be determined based on what may happen over the next 10 days” — a veiled warning shot to the Appropriations chairman that he should vote “yes” on the final tax bill or face more aggressive action by the RSC.

However, some senior members of Frelinghuysen’s committee say it’d be foolish to take retribution against the chairman.

“It would have made a whole bunch of people very upset, including myself,” Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonHouse retirement sets off scramble for coveted chairmanship The Hill's 12:30 Report Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks MORE (R-Idaho), an Appropriations cardinal, told The Hill. “A lot of us would walk away from the Appropriations Committee and say, ‘If that’s what you want to do, then you can have this job.’ "

“Rodney has done a great job as chairman. One of the things they tell you when you get here on Day One is, ‘We’ll never ask you to vote against your district,’ ” Simpson continued.

“You’ve got to give people the freedom to vote for their district,” he said.