Republicans advise Rogers: Pick Senate bid over FBI post

Senior Republicans are pressing Rep. Mike Rogers to launch a bid for the Senate instead of accepting a possible offer from President Obama to head the FBI.

The seven-term Michigan Republican is facing a potentially vexing decision: whether to try and flip retiring Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) seat and push Republicans closer to a Senate majority or take the helm of the FBI for the next 10 years.

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He could also opt to stay in the House, where he heads the Intelligence Committee — a position that is not term-limited.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Judiciary panel that will oversee the FBI nomination later this year, recommended the upper chamber.

“What I do know about him, I like,” said Grassley, referring to how Rogers would fare as a nominee for the FBI position. “But I’d rather have him run for the U.S. Senate. How do you get 51 senators? One at a time.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, agrees: “Absolutely he’d make a great director, but I’d like to see him in the Senate more.”

To win back control of the Senate, Republicans need to pick up six seats. While they have good opportunities in red states next year, political handicappers say Republicans will likely have to win a blue-leaning Senate seat, such as Iowa, Michigan or Minnesota, to run the upper chamber in 2015.

Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed by former President George W. Bush and had his 10-year term extended for two years in 2011 by Congress. He is set to step down in September, opening up the position for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.), who has worked closely with Rogers, empathized with the former FBI agent’s position.

Rogers would be great in either role, said King, noting that Michigan is a tough state for Republicans to carry but that Rogers could do it.

Rogers’s counterparts on the Senate Intelligence Committee have also vouched for him. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence panel, endorsed Rogers to Obama during their recent golf outing.

“He’d make a great FBI director. That’s what I told the president,” said Chambliss, adding that it’s too tough of a choice to say whether he’d prefer him in the FBI over the Senate.

The two options put Democrats in a precarious position.

By offering Rogers the directorship of the FBI, the White House could help clear the way for Rep. Gary Peters (Mich.), the battle-tested Democrat vying for the seat. But as director of the FBI, Rogers would have the power to investigate a wide range of criminal activity, including within the administration.

Rogers has ripped Cabinet officials on various matters, including Attorney General Eric Holder. The Michigan Republican has also criticized how the White House handled the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

AllThingsDemocrat.com recently posted a blog stating, “Nominating Rogers would be a disastrous decision by President Obama.”

Some Democrats won’t publicly discuss the issue. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said his opinion would be “the kiss of death” for any FBI candidate.

The White House and Rogers could be playing a game of chicken: the administration has not hinted when it will pick Mueller’s replacement, and Rogers recently said he has no timetable to make a decision on the Senate.

Rogers has more than $1.4 million cash on hand in his campaign war chest, while Peters has $813,000.

The FBI Agents Association endorsed Rogers earlier this month. And an EPIC-MRA poll placed Rogers trailing Peters by 7 points, with 33 percent of voters who were polled saying they were undecided.

Most Republicans view Rogers as their best chance to win the seat because he brings a blue-collar appeal that could help garner Democratic votes.

“Michigan is a tough state for Republicans, but I think he has a lot of cross-party appeal,” said King. “There’s that blue-collar law enforcement image, yet a solid Republican.”

If Rogers doesn’t run, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) is also looking at a bid, and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has shown interest, though establishment Republicans are wary that his strong libertarian views could hurt the GOP in a general election.

In what was seen as a shot at Rogers, Amash last week said he would oppose any GOP nominee who is “anti-civil liberties” and “pro-corporate welfare.” Amash has only $114,000 cash on hand.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said Democrats start the race with an advantage, in part because of Levin’s tenure.

Spokesmen for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) declined to comment on whether Rogers would help or hurt their respective party if he accepted a nomination to become the next director of the FBI.

The DSCC predicted a brutal Republican primary, whether Rogers runs or not. The NRSC said Rogers would be “an effective leader” in whatever role he takes on.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), a close friend of Rogers and the ranking Democrat on Rogers’s Intelligence panel, said the chairman would make a great FBI director, and that it would behoove Obama to add another Republican to his administration.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the GOP should be looking ahead to 2016, when two dozen Republican seats are up for reelection. Republicans are going to need every seat they can get in 2014 if they have hopes to take or keep the majority in a presidential election year — Rogers will help them get there, he said.

“He certainly gives them a heck of a better chance than anyone being floated right now,” O’Connell said. “It’s going to take a candidate of quality stature like Rogers. He’s got the kind of upside to make that race very winnable for Republicans.”

O’Connell also pointed to the need for Obama to reinstate a degree of public confidence into his administration, especially during a time when the White House is getting hit hard by the GOP. A Republican FBI director could help Obama bridge that gap, he said.

Republicans who serve or who have served in Obama’s Cabinet include former Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.), ex-Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Robert Gates.