Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority

House Republicans say they’re ready to unify out of necessity and survival as they get ready for life in the minority.

After a fractious eight years in which conservatives repeatedly threatened and undermined their own leaders — contributing to the ouster in 2015 of Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Ohio) — GOP lawmakers on both sides say it’s time to bury the hatchet and battle a common foe: ascendant House Democrats.

“If we're going to be successful at pushing back against their radical agenda, it's only going to be if we come together,” House Majority 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.) said in an interview.

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He added that while Republicans fought over different ideas for legislation while in the majority, some of those fissures are likely to fall to the side “because now I think each individual group knows their own individual idea is not going to have a likely chance of coming to the floor, whereas in the past it did.”

“You know, each group got different wins out of committees and on the floor, and the fight was always how much more were they going to be able to get that they wanted,” he said. “Now we know it’s good luck going and asking [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi to bring that bill forward. So it makes everybody realign their objectives and that’s going to be to block the really bad things Pelosi's going to try and do.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus that has often been a thorn in the side of leadership, said lawmakers he’s spoken with have said they hope to work across the aisle when they can, but need to be “ready to fight” if and when Democrats attack their party’s platform.

“If that's the case, then we have to be ready to defend ourselves, be aggressive where we can and point out the chasm in policy wherever we can,” he told The Hill. “And I think people seem to be unified around that fundamental strategy.”

A unifying gesture of sorts took place last month, when the Republican Steering Committee, a body largely controlled by Republican leadership, voted to elect Rep. Jim. Jordan (R-Ohio), a former Freedom Caucus leader, as the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Steering Committee turned aside Jordan’s bid to be ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, the post he initially sought. Still, the incoming GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (Calif.), worked to secure Jordan’s ranking membership on the Oversight panel, a source familiar with the proceedings said.

McCarthy worked with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona Abortion foes march into divided Washington McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-N.C.), a close ally of Jordan’s, and Meadows agreed to step aside so that Jordan could win the ranking membership position.

“McCarthy then encouraged the committee to come together, and Jordan ultimately secured the post by acclimation,” the source told The Hill. Meadows is now thought to be a contender to become President TrumpDonald John TrumpDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Lady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ We have a long history of disrespecting Native Americans and denying their humanity MORE’s chief of staff.

McCarthy’s work was notable since Jordan had just challenged him for leadership of the conference. McCarthy turned aside the challenge easily in a closed-door vote of conference members.

According to a source familiar with McCarthy’s thinking, the California Republican felt Jordan possessed the skill set best suited to lead Republicans on the panel and help move the conference forward.

There are a number of reasons to think it will be difficult for the disparate GOP conference to sing “Kumbaya” around the campfire.

One wildcard is President Trump, who will now seek to govern with a GOP Senate and a Democratic House. If Trump reaches across the aisle to make deals with Democrats, he’ll likely create fissures within the GOP House.

A number of GOP centrists lost reelection bids in 2018, but those who remain are demanding changes.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerOn The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown Overnight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on MORE (R-Ill.) have expressed frustrations that Republicans haven’t looked back and confronted the reason they lost more than 40 seats.

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLatest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House GOP maps out early 2020 strategy to retake House On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-N.Y.) is frustrated with the paltry number of GOP women in the House and has said she intends to get involved in GOP primaries to get more women elected. Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerGOP maps out early 2020 strategy to retake House Steve King faces new storm over remarks about white supremacy Jeb Bush: GOP leaders need to 'actively support' primary challenger for Steve King MORE (R-Minn.), the incoming chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm, said he thought that would be a bad idea.

It’s not completely clear that all Republicans are ready to let bygones be bygones, added Biggs, though he took a hopeful attitude.

“In some ways, yeah, you might still see some below surface tension, but I think for the most part people are going to try to pull the yoke together and go forward,” he said.

Rep. Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonWashington must defend American crypto innovation, not crush it GOP lawmaker unveils bill soliciting private contributions to pay for border wall Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority MORE (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member, said he was “encouraged by the tone” McCarthy set during leadership elections, but noted they have not yet seen how committees will be populated.

“There are cynics that are concerned that it’s going to be a new round of civil war in the party,” he told The Hill. “I think, you know, the leadership team will largely do their best to represent a way to bridge the party and make sure everyone's represented.”

Others joke that in the minority it shouldn’t be hard to unify since Republicans will have much less power.

“Well since everybody's irrelevant it just doesn't matter, we're all going to be irrelevant together — that's the way I look at it,” one lawmaker joked. 

More than 70 percent of the conference has never served in the minority, so it’s likely to be a learning — and frustrating — experience.

“I think the point is that we didn't run on resist — we tried to govern, we got results and we could have gotten better results if we had colleagues across the aisle that actually were trying to govern versus #resist,” Davidson said. “And unfortunately, they were rewarded for that resistance, and I guess my hope is, if we don't try to replicate that and that we do work to find solutions.”