House Budget chair Black eyes Tennessee governor bid

GOP Rep. Diane Black has one eye on her upcoming 2018 budget and the other on the Tennessee governor’s mansion.

The new House Budget Committee chairwoman said she hasn’t made any decision about whether to jump into the crowded governor’s race. But House colleagues and GOP sources say Black is likely to announce a bid later this year, perhaps as soon as this summer.

The former state lawmaker and registered nurse has also been making the rounds at Reagan Day dinners around the state, popular stops for declared and potential gubernatorial hopefuls. And a new Vanderbilt University poll shows she has the highest name ID in the field of potential candidates — nearly half of all registered voters in Tennessee know her name.

{mosads}“She’s probably going to get in,” said Beth Campbell, a Republican National Committeewoman for Tennessee who is staying neutral in the GOP primary.

Asked if Black has personally reached out to her about a possible gubernatorial run, Campbell replied: “Her people have.”

One reason that Black may be delaying her announcement: An internal House GOP rule says she’d have to immediately relinquish her Budget gavel once she announces a run for higher office.

If she runs, Black will have to give up her gavel just four months into her new Budget role.

Black replaced Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) in February when he was confirmed to be President Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary.

It’s a critical time to be Budget chair. Black is working furiously to find agreement in her party on spending levels and to write the GOP’s budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

Appropriators are anxiously waiting for her panel to set spending levels so they can begin moving appropriation bills through the chamber. The new budget resolution is also expected to kick off the reconciliation process that will allow Senate Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster on tax reform.

Budget leaders plan to unveil and mark up their new spending blueprint in the next couple weeks.

In a brief interview in the Capitol, Black said she’s solely focused on the task at hand.

“My job is to get the budget out,” she told The Hill.

Asked whether she’ll mount a bid for the governor’s office, Black replied: “That decision has not been made yet. There are a lot of rumors out there. I will let you know if I make that decision.”

Because the Volunteer State is deep red, the winner of the Republican primary in August 2018 will almost certainly go on to win the general election. With more than a year before the election, the primary field is already packed.

Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, who served in term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet, has been running since March. Another wealthy, self-funding businessman, Bill Lee, jumped into the race in April.

And conservative state Sen. Mae Beavers, a former Trump delegate who has echoed the president’s campaign pledge by vowing to “drain the swamp” in Nashville, will formally launch her gubernatorial bid this weekend.

Another GOP state senator, Mark Green, suspended his run for governor earlier this year after Trump nominated him for Army secretary. But Green withdrew his nomination over comments he made about Muslim and LGBT Americans, and said he is now deciding whether to rejoin the race.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville is also expected to run, according to a GOP source in Tennessee.

Black can afford to wait, given her high name ID and personal wealth. Black is one of the richest members of Congress, worth tens of millions of dollars, (Much of her wealth comes from Aegis Sciences Corp., the drug-testing company she founded with her husband, David Black.)

“I think the slower pace of ObamaCare repeal and tax reform have probably delayed her timeline a bit,” said a GOP source close to Black. “My guess is she wants to get some points on the board and score a legislative victory or two before making it official.

“But if there’s anyone who can afford a late entry into this race and still come out with a win, it’s Diane Black.”

If Black announces a bid, she’ll likely have to step down as Budget chair under an internal GOP conference rule informally known as the “Paul Ryan rule.” She could seek a waiver, but some Steering Committee members said they would be disinclined to grant one.

That rule, adopted in 2014, states that chairmen of full committees or subcommittees must resign their post once they publicly announce they are running for higher office, including president or governor.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a veteran appropriator, proposed the rule after complaining that a fellow subcommittee chairman was spending too much time campaigning for the Senate.

“If you’re running for office, the presumption is that you shouldn’t be holding a gavel, because you simply can’t do your job for our conference and run for another well,” Cole said back in 2014.

It’s unclear who would replace Black as chair.

Budget Vice Chairman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) is mulling a bid for the Senate in 2018. And the next two most senior committee members — Cole and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) — both said they’re not interested in trading their current Appropriations subcommittee gavels for the Budget gavel.

As Appropriations “cardinals,” Cole and Diaz-Balart oversee hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending.

Next in seniority are Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who quit the conservative Freedom Caucus in 2015 as it moved to oust then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee; Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member who’s highly critical of Trump; and Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a close leadership ally and appropriator.

“It is a wide open race … if Rokita runs for Senate,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who serves on the Budget panel.

Tags Boehner Diane Black John Boehner Paul Ryan Rob Woodall Steve Womack
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