Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights

Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights
© Getty Images

The final week of the midterm election has seen a flurry of last-minute, behind-the-scenes jockeying in House leadership races, even though it’s unclear which party will control the lower chamber after Election Day.

Chief Deputy Majority Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Local banks can lead bipartisan efforts on financial regulation Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown MORE (R-N.C.) is expected to seek a promotion in GOP leadership and challenge Conference Chair Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices Washington governor announces killer whale recovery plan MORE (R-Wash.) for majority whip, the No. 3 post, if Republicans hold the House, multiple GOP sources said.

Normally a backroom operator, McHenry this week publicly announced he had raised $16 million for his colleagues this cycle and held nearly 200 fundraising events.   

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyNY Times prints special section featuring women of the 116th Congress Dem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump MORE (R-Wyo.), former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, is gearing up for a leadership bid this year, while Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Rand Paul suggests holding State of the Union in Senate MORE (R-Calif.), Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay MORE (R-La.) and others eyeing top jobs are fanning out across the country to stump for colleagues whose support they’ll need to climb the leadership ladder later this month.

Across the aisle, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) this week issued a surprising demand that’s threatening to derail Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE’s return to the Speaker’s Office: A CBC member should be in one of the top two leadership posts in any shake-up of the team, the group said.

Of course, everything hinges on what happens on Tuesday night. And all of the political posturing and maneuvering suggests ambitious lawmakers are trying to put themselves in the strongest position even before the official wheeling and dealing gets underway after Election Day.

“People are announcing early because they feel a big change coming and want to position themselves before the final deals are cut,” a House Democratic lawmaker told The Hill.

Republicans will hold an internal vote on their new leadership team on Nov. 14, just eight days after the election. Democrats will hold their internal leadership election on Nov. 28.

Dems should ‘walk our talk’

Democrats are feeling more and more confident they will seize control of the House after eight years wandering in the political wilderness. But if that happens, the party’s old bulls are angling to occupy the same posts they held the last time Democrats were in power.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Trump fires back at Pelosi, cancels her foreign travel Democrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor MORE (D-Md.) — who have held a firm grip on power for more than a decade — are expected to run for Speaker and majority leader, respectively.

That has left frustrated rank-and-file members, who have been clamoring for new blood in the party’s entrenched leadership, scrambling to lay down a marker and ensure their voices are heard in the potentially dramatic and hectic leadership battle.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), a key voting bloc in the caucus, began circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter this week calling for one of their own to be in the No. 1 or 2 spot, if Pelosi or Hoyer don’t retain their posts.

“After 229 years as a Congress, we have never had an African American in either of the top two leadership positions. It’s time we walk our talk and provide the transformational change our constituents are calling for,” CBC Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondPressure on K Street to reflect growing diversity in Congress DeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal MORE (D-La.) wrote in the letter.

The letter does not explicitly endorse Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnBlack Caucus chair says America's growing diversity faces 'dragon' of hate House elects Pelosi to second Speakership Dem rep says term limits should be considered for House leadership MORE (D-S.C.), the assistant leader and No. 3 House Democrat, for the job. Some sources think the CBC is trying to gain leverage in the leadership fight, enabling them to potentially cut a deal with Pelosi for the majority leader post.

Others said Richmond's letter was just the latest twist in a long-running campaign by CBC members to push Clyburn to get more aggressive in his pursuit of a top leadership spot. In recent weeks, the assistant leader has expressed an interest in becoming a “transitional” Speaker, but only if Pelosi is unable to secure the spot. And he’s shown no appetite for challenging Hoyer, after an unsuccessful challenge for the No. 2 seat after the 2010 elections.

“I read that as they’re frustrated with Clyburn. … I think they see this thing happening Tuesday, and the music will stop and they won’t have a chair,” said a former Democratic leadership aide. “When you’re trying to get your guy to move, and you’re like, ‘OK, we’ll just light a fire around you.’”

Clyburn’s office did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

If he runs for whip, the No. 3 spot, Clyburn could face a challenge from Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has led the Democrat’s campaign operation for the past two cycles and will be looking for his next move after what’s expected to be a successful election night.

“Sounds like the letter was aimed at Ben Ray Luján,” a Democratic source said. “The CBC feared he was picking up steam for whip and would have blocked Clyburn.”

GOP maneuvering

On the GOP side, things could get just as messy.

While Scalise has said he wouldn’t challenge McCarthy for the Speaker’s gavel, Scalise did not rule out taking on McCarthy for minority leader if Republicans lose the House, according to an interview he gave to Roll Call.

Both men have been barnstorming the country for the past month, raising cash and building chits with vulnerable colleagues as they desperately try to save the GOP majority.

McCarthy has been everywhere — Ohio, Kansas, Nevada, California, Arizona, Missouri — and that was just in the past few days. This week, Scalise campaigned in North Carolina for Republican candidate Mark Harris and Reps. Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddRepublican Ted Budd holds off challenger to win reelection in North Carolina Election Day: An hour-by-hour viewer’s guide Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights MORE, Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonHouse Dems make gun control action an early priority House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights MORE and George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingElection Day: An hour-by-hour viewer’s guide Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights The importance of advancing the U.S.-India partnership MORE; GOP hopeful Denver Riggleman in Virginia; Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthur 10 things we learned from the midterms New Jersey New Members 2019 On The Money: Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on border wall funding | Fed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank | Koch-backed groups blast incentives for corporations after Amazon deal MORE in New Jersey; Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoTax law failed to save GOP majority New York New Members 2019 McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE in New York; and Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrThe new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses Top 5 races to watch in 2019 GOP seeks to ram through Trump’s B wall demand MORE in Kentucky.

A Cheney-Scalise alliance?

Cheney joined Scalise on the campaign trail this week, which suggests an interesting political alliance between the majority whip, Scalise’s right-hand man McHenry and the former vice president’s daughter.

Cheney has told colleagues she will run for GOP conference chair regardless of whether Republicans are in the majority or minority, sources said. That could pit her against McMorris Rodgers, who is expected to run for GOP whip in the majority but could seek to stay in the leadership role she’s held for the past six years if Republicans find themselves in the minority.

Scalise and McMorris Rodgers have clashed in the past: She briefly challenged him for the majority leader job after Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism MORE’s resignation in 2015, though she dropped out of the race after support failed to materialize.

“I never got the sense [McMorris Rodgers] meshed well with the rest of the leadership team,” a GOP lawmaker told The Hill on Friday.

But another GOP source said the anonymous lawmaker has probably never been part of a team. And the source argued that Cheney, a freshman lawmaker, is hardly ready for prime time, pointing to her abandoned 2014 primary challenge against Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate passes criminal justice overhaul, handing Trump a win Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill America needs more accountants in Congress MORE (R-Wyo.) that had critics labeling her a carpetbagger.

“It's not the first time Cheney has gotten ahead of herself,” the GOP source said. “She may be ready for a role in the future, but she's certainly not yet.”

Stumping with Scalise in the coastal town of Toms River, N.J., Cheney dodged questions about whether she was running for leadership and said she was completely focused on the midterms.

“People know they are better off now than they were two years ago and that all is going to come to a stop if we don't keep the majority, so we're going to fight hard till Tuesday,” Cheney told The Hill on Friday.

If Republicans defy the odds and hang on to the House, sources are expecting McHenry to make a play for majority whip, a post he appeared poised to win in 2015 until McCarthy unexpectedly dropped his bid for the Speakership.

McHenry has been crisscrossing the country and raising serious cash, including $7.7 million for GOP colleagues and another $2.6 million to the GOP campaign arm.

“McHenry ran for whip in 2015 and felt very good about where he was going there. He has done the chief deputy whip job successfully for 4 1/2 years,” said a senior GOP aide. “It’d be natural for him to move up.”

If Republicans are relegated to the minority on Tuesday, McHenry is expected to seek the ranking member slot on the powerful Financial Services Committee.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed from Toms River, N.J. Mike Lillis also contributed.