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Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights

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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 McHenry (R-N.C.) is expected to seek a promotion in GOP leadership and challenge Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (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.   

{mosads}Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, is gearing up for a leadership bid this year, while Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Whip Steve Scalise (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 Pelosi’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 Hoyer (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 Richmond (D-La.) wrote in the letter.

The letter does not explicitly endorse Rep. Jim Clyburn (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 Budd, Richard Hudson and George Holding; GOP hopeful Denver Riggleman in Virginia; Rep. Tom MacArthur in New Jersey; Rep. John Faso in New York; and Rep. Andy Barr 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 Boehner’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 Enzi (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.

Tags Andy Barr Boehner Cathy McMorris Rodgers Cedric Richmond Democratic Party George Holding John Boehner John Faso Kevin McCarthy Leadership races Liz Cheney Mike Enzi Nancy Pelosi Patrick McHenry Republican Party Richard Hudson Steny Hoyer Steve Scalise Ted Budd Tom MacArthur
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