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 TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' 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 WalkerNCAA to consider allowing student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Colorado state senators plan to introduce bill to let NCAA athletes get paid 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 HartzlerSchumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act House votes to condemn Trump's transgender military ban MORE (Mo.); three-term Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today CPAC attendees say Biden poses greatest threat to Trump Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall MORE (Texas); two-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.); and freshmen Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonCongress holds first Equal Rights Amendment hearing in 36 years amid ratification push House panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales Lawmakers push crackdown on foreign lobbyists 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 ByrneCheney brushes off questions on Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: 'case closed' vs. 'cover-up' Trump's pursuit of infrastructure deal hits GOP roadblock 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 HarrisOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences House panel advances bill to block military construction funds for border wall House committee approves 9.8b health, education bill 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 WagnerRepublicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave Top GOP lawmaker moves to force floor vote on abortion bill This week: Senate GOP prepares to change rules on Trump nominees 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 ScaliseTrump encouraged Scalise to run for governor in Louisiana: report We owe a debt of gratitude to all our police officers and their families House votes to extend flood insurance program MORE (La.), who some have mentioned as a possible Speaker; Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingMaxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve Ex-GOP congressman heads to investment bank The next two years of federal housing policy could be positive under Mark Calabria 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 PriceOvernight Health Care: CEO of largest private health insurer slams 'Medicare for All' plans | Dem bill targets youth tobacco use | CVS fined over fake painkiller prescriptions | Trump, first lady to discuss opioid crisis at summit HHS inspector general stepping down from watchdog role Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 MORE, who resigned after scrutiny of his private charter flights; and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? Ohio State report documents 177 cases of sexual misconduct by team doctor Republicans defend drug company in spotlight over HIV medication prices 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 FloresOvernight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter 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 RyanDebate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 Liz Cheney faces a big decision on her 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 Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again On The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs GOP offers support for Trump on China tariffs MORE (N.C.) and Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Acting DHS secretary threatened to quit after clashing with Miller: report On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada 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 BoehnerClash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash Liz Cheney faces a big decision on her future NBC's Kelly O'Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network 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 FlemingThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments 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.”