GOP’s Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) veto of Rep. Jim Banks is turning into a gift for the Indiana Republican, who was denied a chance to serve as the top GOP lawmaker on the special committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
In taking direct aim at Banks, Pelosi elevated his stature in the halls of Congress, on cable TV and around the country, helping shape his national profile as a target of the left, a hero of the right, and one of former President Trump’s chief defenders in Washington.
“I’m flattered that Nancy Pelosi is threatened by me,” Banks said in an interview in his Capitol office adorned with photos of him with Trump. “Clearly she viewed Jim Jordan and I as threats to her mission to completely politicize the Jan. 6 select committee.”
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was the other GOP lawmaker rejected by Pelosi on Wednesday.
“Jim Jordan and I are two conservative fighters in the House and we were going to ask tough questions that go down a path that is not good for Democrats,” Banks added. “And by rejecting us on the committee is just further proof that this was fully a political exercise on their part.”
The partisan warfare this week has given a boost to the ambitious 42-year-old Afghanistan war vet. Only seven months into his term as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), GOP colleagues believe Banks will make a bid for a leadership post in the next Congress — especially if Republicans win control of the House and more jobs open up at the top.
Speaking to The Hill, Banks insisted he’s not rushing to lay the groundwork for a leadership run next year even as he keeps the door open to future opportunities.
Instead, Banks said he would have liked to continue leading the RSC for another term or two, if the largest GOP caucus on the Hill didn’t impose a one-term limit for its chairman. And the Navy Reserve Supply Corps officer said he has his eye set on a chairman’s gavel for one of the Armed Services subcommittees should the GOP win the majority.
“I have no grand plan. But I’ve always been transparent about my ambition in the House and about being a leader on the House Armed Services Committee,” Banks told The Hill.
“I sort of have a longer-term view here being a member that comes from a great district. I see myself serving here for a while, and with seniority comes more opportunity to do good things for Indiana and fight for conservative issues that my conservative district cares about,” he continued.
“So, I’ve never had any other ambition than that. But in the meantime, if there’s another place where Speaker McCarthy and Majority Leader Scalise see opportunities where I can serve and be part of the team in places where I can make a difference, I’m open to that,” Banks said, predicting that Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) will flip from being the minority leaders to the majority leaders after the 2022 midterms.
Leadership races are still 16 months away, but early jockeying for top leadership jobs has already begun. If Republicans win the House by a big margin, most expect McCarthy and Scalise will slide into the Speaker and majority leader jobs; that leaves majority whip, GOP Conference chair, and a host of other lower-profile posts.
With new House Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) expected to make a play for the Education and Labor Committee gavel next year, Banks could vie to succeed Stefanik as Conference chair, a job similar to RSC chair that requires managing meetings and listening to a litany of member grievances, his colleagues said.
Majority whip could be an option as well, though Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Scalise’s former chief deputy whip, is weighing whether to run for GOP whip or chairman of the influential Financial Services Committee. Many view the RSC job as an audition for higher-profile roles; Scalise, Jordan and former Vice President Mike Pence have all led the conservative group, though other RSC leaders flamed out.
First elected in 2016, Banks would also have to contend with a slew of other ambitious up-and-comers in the GOP Conference who are looking to rise in the ranks, including his predecessor at RSC, Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), who is now GOP Conference vice chair; Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the conference secretary; and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the two-term chair of the House GOP’s campaign arm.
All of those individuals are white men, however. Rep. Jackie Walorski, a Hoosier like Banks, and first-term Reps. Kat Cammack (Fla.) and Young Kim (Calif.) also are being mentioned as potential future GOP leaders that would provide a more diverse look for the team.
Even some potential rivals to Banks view him as a rising star, a sharp communicator and a shrewd political tactician. Two years ago, Banks hired the son of conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Buckley Carlson, on his communications team, and the congressman has brought members of the rival conservative Freedom Caucus, Reps. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), into RSC’s inner circle.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) said Banks has proven he’s an “effective” leader, while Hudson, the GOP secretary, called Banks “one of the most competent, hardest-working members in our conference.”
Under Banks, the RSC has been pumping out a plethora of policy papers and talking points, focused on everything from the border crisis and the China threat to inflation.
A six-page memo Banks sent to McCarthy last spring made the biggest splash: Republicans need to “embrace” the Trump coalition and “permanently become the party of the working class” to reclaim the House, Senate and White House.
While Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) mocked Banks’s memo as “Neo-Marxist,” it was an early sign that he wanted to align the 154-member RSC with Trump, just weeks after the 45th president had egged on thousands of his supporters before the violent Jan. 6 insurrection.
Banks just last month, at the invitation of Trump, led an eight-member RSC delegation to meet with the ex-president at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club. One attendee, Babin, suggested Trump accompany the RSC group on an upcoming trip to the southern border to highlight the migrant crisis. Shortly before the July 4 weekend, Trump appeared for a photo-op at his unfinished border wall outside McAllen, Texas, joined by two dozen House Republican loyalists.
Trump gave a personal shout out to nearly every lawmaker on hand, including Banks. “Strong, silent,” Trump said of Banks. “Not all of our congressmen are strong and silent.”
Babin said Banks has a knack for getting his members involved and putting them to work. Earlier this year, he kept talking to Banks about all the ideas he had about securing the border; soon, Banks named Babin chair of the RSC’s border-security task force.
“As an old president of the Lions Club, one of your best deals when you get a new member is to give them something to do, you give them a job, hold them accountable,” Babin told The Hill. “This is what I think that Jim Banks has done with the RSC.”
Added another RSC member, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.): “Every little boy wants to be president and I’m no different, and I’m sure Banks isn’t any different either. That’s the way you do it, you get out in front and deliver.”
Some critics, however, view Banks as overly ambitious, someone who is always striving to build his personal brand and align himself with political winners.
“It’s smart politics but it also can look a little disingenuous too,” said a senior House GOP aide. “You have to balance: Are you looking out too much for yourself, or what you’re elected to do?”
The RSC’s border trip was largely hailed as a success, but it did generate one bad headline for Banks: CNN reported that a man who had stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 had appeared with some of the lawmakers as they spoke with unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Banks spokesman Carlson said the congressman did not invite the man on the trip and did not speak with him.
The CNN story raised alarm among Pelosi allies after McCarthy named Banks as ranking member of the special panel. Banks, who voted to overturn Biden’s election victory hours after the attack and opposed Trump’s impeachment, also had irked Pelosi by issuing a statement saying Republicans would investigate the Biden administration’s role in responding to the attack. Biden didn’t take office until Jan. 20, 14 days after the deadly siege.
Banks and Jordan “made statements and took actions that just made it ridiculous to put them on such a committee seeking the truth,” Pelosi said Thursday as the fallout continued.
Before the Jan. 6 blowup, Banks and Cheney had been close. They are both defense hawks who serve on the Armed Services panel together; and Cheney agreed to campaign for Banks in Indiana in 2019.
“You might know her by her last name but I can tell you today that Liz Cheney stands on her own two feet, as a significant leader in the Republican Party and will for many years to come,” Banks said, introducing her at a Lincoln Day dinner in Fort Wayne, Ind.
But in the interview with The Hill, Banks ripped into Cheney, the sole Republican whom Pelosi appointed to the Jan. 6 panel and who was ousted from GOP leadership earlier for continuing to blame Trump for the attack. Cheney was replaced by Stefanik, a Trump loyalist.
“We had a complete vacuum of GOP messaging; Liz Cheney completely failed on that front because she was just completely out of touch and out of tune with the Republican message,” Banks said. “She spends more time with Democrats than she does with Republicans.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, hit back at Banks on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday.
Banks has “disqualified himself by his comments in particular over the last 24 hours,” Cheney said, “demonstrating that he is not taking this seriously, is not dealing with the facts of this investigation but rather viewed it as a political platform.”