GOP's bleak retreat into the minority

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) expressed astonishment during a recent meeting of conservative lawmakers that Republicans would soon lose the room where members hold their regular Bible study, an aide present said.

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) expressed astonishment during a recent meeting of conservative lawmakers that Republicans would soon lose the room where members hold their regular Bible study, an aide present said.

On a similar note, Republicans across Capitol Hill have been forced to confront the unwelcome presence of Democrats touring their offices to map out arrangements for the coming Congress.

The Republican retreat from ornate leadership chambers and spacious committee offices has been a harsh awakening for members of the outgoing majority, but that is just one of the many difficult realities GOP members and staff must accept about life in the minority.

Still stinging from their midterm defeat, leaders in the House must rewrite the party’s internal rules to adapt to their diminished status and reorganize the Steering Committee to decide who will serve on each committee and who will be the ranking Republican before slinking off to the offices allocated to them by Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

A small group of leadership aides in the offices of outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), incoming Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and outgoing Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) are leading that effort, but none of the major decisions is expected to be announced until early next week. Those aides are meeting throughout the week, leadership staff said.

The challenge for Boehner will be incorporating those Republicans left alienated by the results of leadership contests earlier this month while he secures his grip on GOP lawmakers in the House, aides said in the wake of those leadership elections.

A major fight is brewing among conservatives in the House to elect the next chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) have been calling members of the increasingly influential committee to ask for their support in the election next Wednesday.

Conservatives were among the most affected by the results of the leadership contests, in which a slate of familiar faces convincingly defeated a handful of outspoken challengers, including Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the outgoing RSC chairman, and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), another staunch conservative. These candidates ran on a message of change following the midterm defeat but were rebuffed by their colleagues.

Shadegg, who lost his bid to oust Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as whip, said one of the reasons members did not answer his call for change was because so many had just survived similar campaigns for change in their own reelection fights.

“I don’t think they’ve had enough time to decide what the election means,” Shadegg said moments after leaving the leadership race.

Hensarling has been an outspoken ally of Pence, who suffered a landslide defeat to Boehner in the leader’s race. Pence and Hensarling led a small band of upstarts who, over the past two years, have waged public battles with the leadership over revised budget rules and federal funding for the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. The Texas Republican also backed Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in his confrontation with appropriators last summer over earmarks included in spending bills that reached the House floor.

Many staffers consider Tiahrt, an appropriator, as the leadership-backed candidate who would mute the influence of conservative agitators as Republicans try to unite in the minority.

“It’s an effort to neuter the RSC,” one aide said. “It’s an effort to split the powerbase.”

Tiahrt spokesman Chuck Knapp said his boss met with the group’s three remaining founders because members asked him to run and that the Kansas Republican has not had any conversations with Boehner or his staff about chairing the RSC.

Hensarling, Tiahrt and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who would also like to be considered, met with the founders before Thanksgiving. In the past, those founders have nominated each incoming chairman, but leaders of the committee changed the rules under Pence to create the Steering Committee and to allow non-founders to nominate members before the vote.

The remaining founders — Johnson and Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and John Doolittle (R-Calif.) — were expected to nominate Tiahrt, aides said before the holiday break, but that seems less certain this week, some of the same aides now say.

The founders are discussing options and could make an announcement before members return to Washington, aides said yesterday.

Retiring Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) also plays an uncertain role in the nominating process because he will not be a member in the next Congress, but he has met with each of the candidates, aides said.

Knapp said his boss would “proudly accept” the founders’ nomination but would not seek it on the floor if those lawmakers select someone else.

“There has been a process in place, and he is one to respect that process,” Knapp said.

Rep. Tom Feeney’s (R-Fla.) office distributed a “dear colleague” letter on behalf of Hensarling to members of the committee yesterday. Reps. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) joined Feeney, Flake, Pence and Shadegg on the letter.

“He’s been very encouraged by the support he has received over the phone,” Hensarling spokesman Brad Dayspring said.

One question heading into the race is how many members of the committee will vote. The official number hovers somewhere above 100, but only 40 to 50 members attend most meetings, with 80 to 90 attending some of the biggest.

There is grumbling that some members may leave the RSC if Tiahrt wins, creating an early divide among Republicans in the minority. Shadegg created similar grumbling before the 109th Congress until Pence was named chairman.

Other members are seeking colleagues’ support for an impending decision by the soon-to-be-reconfigured Steering Committee about who will serve as the ranking Republican on the various committees.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), for example, circulated a “dear colleague” to members of the Steering Committee highlighting his legislative accomplishments since 1993 and his television appearances during the last year in his own bid to be the ranking Republican on the International Relations Committee.

The Steering Committee is expected to look similar to the structure under Hastert, with leaders, regional reps and class reps expected to have one vote with Boehner holding more sway, aides said this week. Outgoing Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) will not have a vote because he is retiring from Congress, and many of the current leaders were replaced in the elections before Thanksgiving.