Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post

Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post
© Greg Nash

Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act Only all-male state Supreme Court set to get female justice MORE (R-Iowa) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post MORE (R-Neb.) are both looking to become the first woman to serve in the elected Senate Republican leadership since 2010.

With Republicans in the majority and aiming to pick up seats in November, there isn’t much call for big changes in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE’s (R-Ky.) team.  

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But there’s growing sentiment that the Senate GOP’s elected leadership ranks, which have been filled entirely by men since 2010, need some gender diversity. Eight years ago, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska) resigned as vice chair of the GOP conference after losing a Republican primary battle to Joe Miller, a conservative challenger whom McConnell backed in the general election. Murkowski subsequently won the general election as a write-in candidate.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs America must act to ensure qualified water workforce Overnight Health Care: Big win at Supreme Court for anti-abortion centers | HHS chief grilled on migrant children | Boom time for ObamaCare insurers? MORE (R-W.Va.), who serves as an appointed counselor on McConnell’s leadership team, said on Tuesday said it’s “absolutely” time for a woman to join the elected Senate GOP leadership.

The contest for the vice chair of the Senate GOP conference, which is being vacated by Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites Hillicon Valley: Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | New report on election security | FBI agent testifies in marathon hearing MORE (R-Mo.), is between Ernst and Fischer — two rising stars who both represent farm states but would bring different styles and contributions to the table.
Ernst, 47, became an instant celebrity during the 2014 midterm elections when she released her famous television ad, “Squeal,” in which she talked about growing up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm and promised to cut pork barrel spending and make D.C. insiders squeal.

The spot, rated one of the best campaign ads of the cycle, immediately grabbed the attention of future colleagues in Washington. She added to her cachet by delivering the official Republican response to President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

Ernst has become a big fundraising draw for Republican candidates and is in high demand for the upcoming campaign season.

She said in a brief interview Tuesday that she expects to help Senate GOP candidates this fall but does not yet have her schedule set. Ernst’s office declined to comment on her leadership aspirations.

Fischer, 67, is a lower-profile senator who has worked diligently behind the scenes to build relationships with colleagues. She has gotten her foot in the leadership door by serving as an informal counselor to McConnell’s leadership team, meeting regularly on Mondays, and as a member of the whip team that meets every Tuesday when Congress is in session.

In the 2012 election, Fischer was the only Republican to pick up a Democratic-held seat, winning the seat previously held by centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who was a highly touted recruit trying to reclaim the seat he held before retiring in 2000. 

Several of her colleagues have suggested she would make a good addition to the leadership team.

“Senator Fischer has been encouraged by a number of her colleagues to consider an elected leadership position. These elections don’t take place until November and the senator has no additional comment. She remains focused on serving the people of Nebraska,” said Brianna Puccini, Fischer’s spokeswoman.

Before Murkowski served in the GOP leadership, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was chairwoman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee from 2007 to 2009. Hutchison also served as vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference from 2001 to 2007.

Betty Koed, the Senate historian, noted that one reason there have been fewer women in the Republican leadership than the Democratic leadership is that there have been fewer GOP women in the Senate altogether.

“There have been a lot more Democratic women than Republican women and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve been slower to get in leadership,” she said.

Koed noted that senior GOP women such as Murkowski and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Maine) have preferred to exercise influence by climbing the committee leadership ladders.

Murkowski is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while Collins is the chairwoman of the Special Committee on Aging.

McConnell’s allies say he’s made an effort to include women in his leadership circle.

Capito and Fischer currently serve as counselors to his team, and former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Former Arizona senator to shepherd Supreme Court nominee through confirmation process Shut the back door to America's opioid epidemic MORE (R-N.H.) did so as well before losing her reelection bid in 2016.

But McConnell has been criticized at times for not giving women more prominence in major leadership positions. He took flak last year for not formally naming a woman to a special working group of 13 senators who were tasked with crafting a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

McConnell, however, stressed that any colleague was welcome to attend meetings of the group.  

While the vice chair’s position is only the fourth-ranking of the elected leadership — not counting the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — it has served as a springboard to higher leadership.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash McConnell: Russians are not our friends Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE (Texas) served as vice chair from 2007 to 2009. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk MORE (S.D.) served in the position in 2009 and is expected to take over the whip’s job from Cornyn next year. Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act MORE (Wyo.), the current Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman, served as vice chair of the conference from 2010 to 2012.