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 Frelinghuysen'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House 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 reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Overnight Energy: Koch backs bill opposing carbon taxes | Lawmakers look to Interior budget to block offshore drilling | EPA defends FOIA process Koch backs House measure opposing carbon taxes 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 WalkerGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Senators seek data on tax law's impact on charitable giving MORE (R-N.C.) and another RSC leader huddled with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit Former Trump aide says he canceled CNN appearance over 'atrocious' Helsinki coverage 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 Simpson'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled Five things to know about efforts to repeal Obama's water rule Key conservative presses for shield law after seizure of NYT reporter’s records 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.