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Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus

Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus
© Greg Nash/Getty

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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 WalkerNorth Carolina GOP condemns Burr for impeachment vote against Trump Madison Cawthorn throws support behind Mark Walker in NC Senate primary Democrat Jeff Jackson jumps into North Carolina Senate race 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 HartzlerJill Biden visits Capitol to thank National Guard Tim Ryan, Rosa DeLauro giving free coffee and donuts to National Guard stationed at Capitol Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win MORE (Mo.); three-term Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Trump Georgia call divides House GOP Biden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver MORE (Texas); two-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.); and freshmen Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonCassidy defends vote to proceed with Trump trial after GOP backlash Cassidy calls Trump attorneys 'disorganized' after surprise vote House Democrats renew push for checks on presidential pardons 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 ByrneTrump's Slovenia Ambassador Lynda Blanchard jumps into Alabama Senate race Mo Brooks expresses interest in running for Shelby's Senate seat Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm 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 HarrisLawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources Committee room Boebert responds to criticism of her gun storage in Zoom background Marjorie Taylor Green, guns and domestic terrorism 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 WagnerSix ways to visualize a divided America House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power 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 ScaliseThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble Feehery: How Republicans can win by focusing on schools Former RNC chair to Republicans looking for new Trump party: 'There's the door' MORE (La.), who some have mentioned as a possible Speaker; Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingLawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? 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 PriceBiden health nominee faces first Senate test Focus on cabinet nominees' effectiveness and expertise, not just ideology Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE, who resigned after scrutiny of his private charter flights; and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic fury with GOP explodes in House House Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism Connolly to GOP: I won't be lectured by those who voted to overturn the election 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 FloresThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it 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 RyanBottom line Ex-Trump chief of staff Priebus mulling Wisconsin governor bid In Marjorie Taylor Greene, a glimpse of the future 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 MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (N.C.) and Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOMB nominee gets hearing on Feb. 9 Republicans now 'shocked, shocked' that there's a deficit Financial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief 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 BoehnerCancun fallout threatens to deal lasting damage to Cruz Jim Jordan: Rising power on the right? Former HHS secretary Sebelius joins marijuana industry group 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 FlemingTrump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Iran strikes US bases in Iraq; Trump to speak today 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.”