Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post

Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post
© Greg Nash

Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Iowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race MORE (R-Iowa) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerStatue of Chief Standing Bear to be unveiled in Capitol The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow MORE (R-Neb.) are both looking to become the first woman to serve in the elected Senate Republican leadership since 2010.

With Republicans in the majority and aiming to pick up seats in November, there isn’t much call for big changes in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE’s (R-Ky.) team.  

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But there’s growing sentiment that the Senate GOP’s elected leadership ranks, which have been filled entirely by men since 2010, need some gender diversity. Eight years ago, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   MORE (R-Alaska) resigned as vice chair of the GOP conference after losing a Republican primary battle to Joe Miller, a conservative challenger whom McConnell backed in the general election. Murkowski subsequently won the general election as a write-in candidate.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGaetz: Some lawmakers reviewed transcript at White House On The Money: Trump takes aim at China in UN address | Consumer confidence fell as trade tensions rose | Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall MORE (R-W.Va.), who serves as an appointed counselor on McConnell’s leadership team, said on Tuesday said it’s “absolutely” time for a woman to join the elected Senate GOP leadership.

The contest for the vice chair of the Senate GOP conference, which is being vacated by Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (R-Mo.), is between Ernst and Fischer — two rising stars who both represent farm states but would bring different styles and contributions to the table.
Ernst, 47, became an instant celebrity during the 2014 midterm elections when she released her famous television ad, “Squeal,” in which she talked about growing up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm and promised to cut pork barrel spending and make D.C. insiders squeal.

The spot, rated one of the best campaign ads of the cycle, immediately grabbed the attention of future colleagues in Washington. She added to her cachet by delivering the official Republican response to President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

Ernst has become a big fundraising draw for Republican candidates and is in high demand for the upcoming campaign season.

She said in a brief interview Tuesday that she expects to help Senate GOP candidates this fall but does not yet have her schedule set. Ernst’s office declined to comment on her leadership aspirations.

Fischer, 67, is a lower-profile senator who has worked diligently behind the scenes to build relationships with colleagues. She has gotten her foot in the leadership door by serving as an informal counselor to McConnell’s leadership team, meeting regularly on Mondays, and as a member of the whip team that meets every Tuesday when Congress is in session.

In the 2012 election, Fischer was the only Republican to pick up a Democratic-held seat, winning the seat previously held by centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who was a highly touted recruit trying to reclaim the seat he held before retiring in 2000. 

Several of her colleagues have suggested she would make a good addition to the leadership team.

“Senator Fischer has been encouraged by a number of her colleagues to consider an elected leadership position. These elections don’t take place until November and the senator has no additional comment. She remains focused on serving the people of Nebraska,” said Brianna Puccini, Fischer’s spokeswoman.

Before Murkowski served in the GOP leadership, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was chairwoman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee from 2007 to 2009. Hutchison also served as vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference from 2001 to 2007.

Betty Koed, the Senate historian, noted that one reason there have been fewer women in the Republican leadership than the Democratic leadership is that there have been fewer GOP women in the Senate altogether.

“There have been a lot more Democratic women than Republican women and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve been slower to get in leadership,” she said.

Koed noted that senior GOP women such as Murkowski and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds MORE (R-Maine) have preferred to exercise influence by climbing the committee leadership ladders.

Murkowski is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while Collins is the chairwoman of the Special Committee on Aging.

McConnell’s allies say he’s made an effort to include women in his leadership circle.

Capito and Fischer currently serve as counselors to his team, and former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.) did so as well before losing her reelection bid in 2016.

But McConnell has been criticized at times for not giving women more prominence in major leadership positions. He took flak last year for not formally naming a woman to a special working group of 13 senators who were tasked with crafting a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

McConnell, however, stressed that any colleague was welcome to attend meetings of the group.  

While the vice chair’s position is only the fourth-ranking of the elected leadership — not counting the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — it has served as a springboard to higher leadership.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (Texas) served as vice chair from 2007 to 2009. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment threatens to drown out everything Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (S.D.) served in the position in 2009 and is expected to take over the whip’s job from Cornyn next year. Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (Wyo.), the current Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman, served as vice chair of the conference from 2010 to 2012.