GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests

GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests
© Stefani Reynolds

Republicans say their leaders already appear to be putting down markers for House leadership contests that won’t happen until after the 2020 elections. 

The two top House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE (Calif.) and Minority 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.), have long been seen as rivals for the top GOP post. They have now been joined on the leadership team by GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLiz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate Overnight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea MORE (Wyo.), a rising star from a famous Republican family, and Vice Conference Chairman 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.), who formerly led the conservative Republican Study Group.

“They’re starting the primaries,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill, adding members are “all working their own lane” to climb in the ranks.

ADVERTISEMENT

What really got the attention of Republicans was the split leadership vote on the resolution approved by the House last week condemning all forms of bigotry in the wake of Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Omar responds to family of 9/11 victim who called her out at anniversary ceremony MORE’s (D-Minn.) controversial remarks about Israel, which were seen by many as anti-Semitic.

Cheney and Walker bucked McCarthy’s call to back the resolution, arguing it failed to go far enough in condemning anti-Semitism.

The Cheney vote proved to be divisive, with McCarthy blasting it during a contentious closed-door meeting on Monday, arguing her position threw off their messaging strategy. While some members backed McCarthy’s frustrations — with one lawmaker telling The Hill they need to “lead as a group” —  others praised her vote for resonating with the Republican base.

Leadership sources confirmed Cheney informed her leadership colleagues of her decision in advance of the resolution coming to the floor, adding some within the conference were frustrated with the push to vote “yes.” Cheney was one of 23 Republicans to oppose the resolution, which was backed by all voting Democrats. 

“There were two things that Kevin was upset about: One, that we have to vote as a team, and two, you know, where did our communication break down? But it was pushed back on him on whose responsibility ultimately is that?” another member told The Hill, while claiming Republicans felt the meeting was productive despite the exchanges. 

“You don’t always know who is posturing for what, but I think there was some acknowledgment from several people in the room that said maybe this should have been done better, maybe we could have communicated this better.”

House Republicans, most of whom have only served in the majority, are getting used to life in the minority. While it’s easier for the minority party to be united, there’s also more time to plot political moves, since the party in the House majority controls the agenda and floor time. 

ADVERTISEMENT

While some of the tension between leaders dissolved following Monday’s meeting, Cheney’s decision to stand her ground on the resolution has impressed a number of leading conservatives in her conference. 

“I think that there is certainly a battle going on within the conference on who will lead the conference in the future, and Liz Cheney certainly has been willing to engage a variety of members for their opinion,” one GOP lawmaker said of her outreach to members on different policy issues. “[Her vote on the resolution] certainly highlighted her willingness to be independent. “

With the quick rise of Cheney and her close working relationship with Scalise, some within the conference speculate the two could be angling to move up in the leadership ranks come 2020. 

“[A Republican lawmaker] said yesterday he had the feeling they had an alliance. There was talk that Scalise is who convinced Cheney to take the chair role in the first place. McCarthy sees the threat,” one senior GOP source told The Hill on Tuesday.  

“Scalise will keep going along to get along and has relatively won over conservatives. Cheney will keep using her name and profile to shore up establishment. I think the thing to watch is if McCarthy leverages [his] Trump relationship to buck Cheney at some point. Cheney keeps bucking POTUS on foreign policy matters — and is harsher when the cameras are off. Trump tends to pick up on those who do that.”

Others pointed to Scalise’s strength within the Republican Steering Committee, which doles out committee seats. Scalise secured seats for some of his allies on key committees, including the Ways and Means panel. McCarthy denied the Steering Committee has been a source of conflict earlier this year. 

“Immediately following the midterms, you had a new power alignment trying to piece together a conference to be in the House minority,” one senior aide said. “There was clearly jockeying between McCarthy and Scalise that extended beyond the 116th Congress. Scalise definitely won his fair share.”

McCarthy dismissed the notion there’s a divide within leadership, pointing to Republicans’ recent procedural victories on the floor as an example of their success in working as a team, noting that the GOP has passed more motions to recommit in two months in the minority than Democrats did in eight years. 

“Our success stems from our relentless pursuit to unite conservatives and Americans around ideas that will make the country stronger,” he said in a statement. “This leadership team has a proven record already and we won’t ever fall into complacency. We are in a great place.”

Some have chalked up talk of tensions as nothing more than gossip surrounding palace intrigue.

“I don’t see that division that everybody else sees and I don’t see these parlor games. I actually see a unified leadership team, more so than we’ve had in the past,” Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGroups push lawmakers for hearings on voting machine security House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad MORE (R-Ill.) told The Hill. 

Cheney said the leadership team is dedicated to working together to take back the majority in 2020.

“The GOP leadership team is absolutely unified and focused on the job that we have to do which is to push back against the Democrats and their far-left agenda,” she said in a statement. “We are committed to working together to defeating the very real danger that the new Democrat majority poses with their defense of anti-Semitism, infanticide, and socialism.”

Scalise focused on highlighting Democrats’ move to the left as Republicans fight to regain the House. 

“This ideology governing their party has dangerous consequences for all Americans, and our Republican leadership team, along with all House Republicans, are united in fighting against their socialist agenda,” he said in a statement. 

“As we’ve seen with the Democrats’ embarrassment on [motions to recommit], our leadership team has already proven to be effective in exposing the radicalism of House Democrats.”