Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus

Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus
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Early jockeying has begun in the race for chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee — the largest caucus on Capitol Hill, and one that has seen its influence grow with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE in the White House.

At least five House Republicans told The Hill they are weighing bids to replace the group's chairman, Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerMcCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote Scott to recuse himself from certifying Florida election results House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses MORE (N.C.). Known informally as the RSC, the caucus imposes a two-year term limit on its chairman, giving more members a chance to lead.

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So far, the possible contenders are: four-term Rep. Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerRecord numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Lawmakers target Chinese security companies over spy fears MORE (Mo.); three-term Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsHouse Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping Veterans can help meet the physician shortage in the VA health system, but this policy is a barrier Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms MORE (Texas); two-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.); and freshmen Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonHouse Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping Republicans accelerate efforts to overhaul Endangered Species Act Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — EPA to merge two key science offices | House panel approves bills to ease endangered species protections | Interior teams with DEA on drug sting MORE (La.).

More could join the fray in the coming weeks, given that the RSC is roughly 160 members strong and there is no heir apparent to Walker. An internal vote would take place after the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

“Right at this moment, it's a wide-open race,” said Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneOn The Money: Trump to seek new round of tax cuts after midterms | Mnuchin meets with Saudi crown prince | Trump threatens to cut foreign aid over caravan GOP lawmaker proposes legislative maneuver to fund Trump's border wall Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (Ala.), an RSC member.

While none of the five members has officially launched a campaign, they all confirmed in interviews or emails this week that they are starting to have conversations with colleagues about the position.

If either Banks or Johnson wins, they’d follow in the footsteps of Walker, a Southern Baptist preacher-turned-politician who won the RSC job as a freshman by upsetting veteran Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisMarijuana activists arrested for smoking outside GOP lawmaker's office Interior to publish Zinke's calendars weekly Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (Md.). Harris had the backing of the exclusive group of past chairmen known as the RSC Founders.

Hartzler could make history as only the second woman to serve as RSC chair; former Rep. Sue Myrick (N.C.) held the post in the early 2000s.

Asked if she’s interested in running, Hartzler, a conservative Christian, replied: “I’m praying on it.”

Her Missouri GOP colleague, Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerMidterm results shake up national map House Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping Conservative groups call for new slate of House GOP leaders MORE, is among those encouraging Hartzler, who chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, to jump in the race.

“She’s a very active member of the RSC," Wagner told The Hill. "She’s a solid conservative. And I would certainly love to see a woman like Vicky head up the RSC.”

“That would be an excellent dynamic and I think Vicky would be well-suited for that position,” Wagner added.

While Walker may not be a household name, the RSC chairmanship has served as a political launching pad. Past chairmen include Vice President Pence; Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseMcCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses MORE (La.), who some have mentioned as a possible Speaker; Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingFed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank Republican McHenry announces bid for Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters reelected to House seat in California MORE (Texas), who is wrapping up his sixth year as chairman of the powerful Financial Services Committee; former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceHouse flip creates big headache for Zinke GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights MORE, who resigned after scrutiny of his private charter flights; and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan on leadership loss: 'We knew it was an uphill fight' McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access MORE (R-Ohio), who went on to found the influential House Freedom Caucus (HFC) but is now facing allegations he failed to protect athletes from a sexually abusive doctor while coaching at Ohio State University decades ago.

Former RSC Chairman Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresTexas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (Texas), who preceded Walker, said the post has become even more influential since Trump became president. Walker not only takes part in a weekly meeting with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJordan on leadership loss: 'We knew it was an uphill fight' McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access MORE (R-Wis.), known as the “cross-sectional," he also has frequently spoken with Trump and top White House officials about key bills, from ObamaCare repeal and tax cuts to recent matters involving immigrant children.

The top RSC post is “probably more relevant today than it was earlier now that you’ve got unified government,” Flores told The Hill.

“You’ve got an opportunity to actually put fingerprints on things that become law," he said. "That was not an option that I had" under former President Obama.

Walker isn’t expected to back anyone in the race, but the RSC Founders have traditionally recommended a candidate before the internal vote.

The 2016 race for chairman was seen as a proxy fight between the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus and GOP establishment forces at a time two Freedom Caucus co-founders — Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJordan on leadership loss: 'We knew it was an uphill fight' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress returns to leadership races, lame-duck drama House Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping MORE (N.C.) and Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyDem House can put Main Street's needs over Wall Street's wants On The Money: Dow, S&P fall to close rough week for Wall Street | Brady appears to rule out lame-duck tax cut action | New payday loan rule coming in January On The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit MORE (S.C.) — were dropping out of the RSC. Both Harris and Walker were conservatives, but Harris was a member of the Freedom Caucus that's credited with pushing out Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote House Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader MORE (R-Ohio) in 2015.

Loudermilk, who quietly dropped out of the Freedom Caucus last year, says he can be a bridge between the Freedom Caucus and other factions within the GOP conference.

“The direction the RSC has taken during this previous chairman’s tenure has been very positive," Loudermilk told The Hill this week after appearing at a news conference with Ryan and his entire leadership team. "We have taken on more of a conservative approach on a lot of issues, but yet taken it from a reasonable standpoint and understanding what is achievable and what isn’t.”

“I want to see us continue in that area to uphold our strong conservative values but understand that a field goal or first down is often better than a Hail Mary pass,” he added.

Banks, one of the two freshmen considering a run for the RSC chairmanship, also has ties to the Freedom Caucus. He was backed by Jordan in his 2016 primary, though he did not end up joining the group. On Thursday, Banks, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who still serves in the Navy Reserves, was named chairman of the Veterans' Affairs subcommittee that has oversight over electronic health records.

“The Republican Study Committee continues to play an important role in moving and advancing conservative principles on Capitol Hill,” said Banks, 38, a member of the RSC Steering Committee. “Chairman Walker has done a great job during this term to make RSC relevant; my interest is continuing that in the next term.”

Williams, who lost a bid to lead the House GOP’s campaign arm in the 2018 cycle, said he’s been approached by a few people to run for the RSC seat. But he’s not jumping head first into the race.

“We’ve got a great bench; we’re not going to void of leadership in the RSC,” said Williams, who volunteers as House Republicans’ baseball team manager for the annual charity game. The RSC is “a conservative group that talks about the things I talk about: lower tax, less government, cut spending, and defend our borders. And anytime I can promote that agenda, I’m gonna promote it.”

Johnson has had a rapid political rise. He won a special election to the Louisiana House of Representatives in February 2015; the next year he was elected to replace Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Coast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane MORE (R-La.), a Freedom Caucus member who made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate.

"I am truly humbled to have been approached by a number of my colleagues encouraging me to run for the chairmanship,” Johnson said in a statement to The Hill. “The Republican Study Committee has been an integral part of advancing the conservative agenda in Congress, and I look forward to supporting the caucus and its goals regardless of my position.”