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 TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat 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 WalkerTo boost minority serving institutions, bipartisan Future Act needs immediate action Pressure rises on Cheney to make decision NCAA urges California governor not to sign 'fair pay' bill for college athletes 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 HartzlerHouse approves amendment to reverse transgender military ban The House-passed bills that have ended up in the Senate 'graveyard' Dem proposal to ban Pentagon funds for border wall survives House panel votes MORE (Mo.); three-term Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsPopulation shifts set up huge House battleground The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today MORE (Texas); two-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.); and freshmen Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonHouse Democrat calls it 'unconstitutional' to cite God in hearing oaths Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Nadler shuts down Republican point of order after impeachment question 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 ByrneGOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped GOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans House GOP fears retirement wave will lead to tsunami 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 HarrisGOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm 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 WagnerLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow A true believer in diversity, inclusion GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates 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 ScaliseOn The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban MORE (La.), who some have mentioned as a possible Speaker; Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Maxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve Ex-GOP congressman heads to investment bank 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 PriceTom Price: The fiscal crisis at hand The Hill's Morning Report — Hurricane headed for Florida changes Trump's travel plans The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE, who resigned after scrutiny of his private charter flights; and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMeadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader House Republicans want details on Democrats' trips to Mexico GOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal 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 FloresTrump calls on House Republicans to let committee chairs stay on the job longer Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dorian lashes Florida's coast 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 RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea 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 MeadowsMeadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (N.C.) and Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyNOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA 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 BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' 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.”