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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 WalkerCorker: Breakthrough reached in shutdown stalemate Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  GOP takes victory lap around Pelosi after passing border wall bill 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 HartzlerFarm bill presents opportunity to improve SNAP program Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (Mo.); three-term Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsCongress starts first day of shutdown with modest hope Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown Pelosi vows Dem help after GOP ‘meltdown’ on spending bills MORE (Texas); two-term Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.); and freshmen Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes stopgap bill with B in funding for Trump's wall New chairman looks to improve RSC’s messaging in minority 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 ByrneHouse lawmakers look to reassure Australia after Mattis resignation GOP struggles to find right Republican for Rules Dems face tough road ahead in Deep South 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 WagnerGOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection Congress must restrain power of new consumer financial director GOP congresswoman says she opted out of NRCC run because McCarthy had 'a different plan' 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 ScaliseScalise: Trump wants Congress to solve shutdown problem Scalise on Steve King's white supremacy remarks: 'There is no place for hate' House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on MORE (La.), who some have mentioned as a possible Speaker; Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingExiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch Ryan focuses on legacy as talk of shutdown dominates capital Rare bipartisanship in lame duck Congress battling the ‘WTO’ of insurance regulation 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 PriceTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Cummings sends 51 letters to White House, others requesting compliance with document requests Interior chief Zinke to leave administration MORE, who resigned after scrutiny of his private charter flights; and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRepublicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify Jordan renews call for Rosenstein to testify 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 FloresRep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman GOP approves rule for Don Young Texas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage 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 RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments 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 MeadowsConservative leader Meadows condemns King comments 'in strongest sense' Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation MORE (N.C.) and Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyFormer PepsiCo CEO being considered for World Bank chief post: report Ivanka Trump to help pick new World Bank president, but will not be one of the candidates Juan Williams: Trump's wall is founded on fiction 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 BoehnerHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism GOP leaders strip Steve King of committee assignments 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.”