Conservatives Should Focus on the Majority Leader Race

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As the days go by, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no clear choice in the Speaker race. McCarthy is not great and his tenure would likely be plagued by a lot of the same incompetence that doomed the Boehner speakership. That having been said, no one who watched the Planned Parenthood hearings last week in the House should be convinced that Chaffetz is capable of doing better. And as Erick noted yesterday, Chaffetz willingly acted as hatchet man for Boehner in the most egregious abuse of power House leadership engaged in this year.

It beggars the imagination to suggest that Chaffetz would be a measurable improvement over McCarthy in terms of substance. It might be a good PR move on the part of the House GOP to show a clearer break with Boehner. But therein also lies a danger: by reshuffling the deck chairs on the titanic, the House GOP may feel content that they have done enough to appease conservatives, when in fact they have done nothing.

Without a credible alternative to McCarthy who presents a measurable substantive improvement, conservatives should focus on ensuring that [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000591′ ] wins the race to succeed McCarthy as Majority Leader over [mc_name name=’Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001176′ ]. In addition to being part of the leadership team that has driven this legislative session into the ditch, Scalise has been personally responsible for many of Boehner’s biggest embarrassments through incompetent whip counts. Scalise, you will remember, botched the GOP’s attempts to pass a budget in March because he ignored conservatives’ concerns about offsetting defense spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget and dismissed [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000591′ ]’s (well founded) claims that House fiscal conservatives were going to rebel against the bill. Scalise also botched the whip count on leadership’s sham immigration bill last year.

Scalise, in fact, has been the central face of Leadership’s failure to communicate with House conservatives or to take their concerns seriously:

So far this year, party whips have failed to find a middle ground in the con­fer­ence to pass a con­tro­ver­sial abor­tion bill, bor­der se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion, and a reau­thor­iz­a­tion of No Child Left Be­hind””and con­sequently, all three bills were pulled in­def­in­itely from House con­sid­er­a­tion. House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence mem­bers have spent the first two months of 2015 fight­ing amongst them­selves and with their coun­ter­parts in the Sen­ate, rather than form­ing a uni­fied Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al front against Pres­id­ent Obama.

But the frus­tra­tion hit a head earli­er this month, when the whip team came to the House floor be­liev­ing they were with­in strik­ing dis­tance of passing a three-week ex­ten­sion of Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment fund­ing. Lead­ers thought the vote could give them time to ham­mer Sen­ate Demo­crats and work out a longer-term solu­tion. In­stead, they were re­buffed by a stag­ger­ing 52 mem­bers of their con­fer­ence in an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat for GOP lead­er­ship.

“How do we not know a vote count that was so wide as that?” said one mem­ber who is close to lead­er­ship, speak­ing an­onym­ously to dis­cuss in­tern­al con­fer­ence dy­nam­ics. “I want to see him suc­ceed, but how many more of these can we with­stand?”

The ten­sion reached such a cres­cendo that by the time a fi­nal vote to ex­tend DHS fund­ing for the rest of the year came to the floor last Wed­nes­day, one of Scal­ise’s five seni­or deputy whips, Rep. Den­nis Ross, offered to resign his lead­er­ship post be­cause he did not want to sup­port the bill, Na­tion­al Journ­al has learned.

Scal­ise had warned earli­er this year that mem­bers who do not sup­port lead­ers on pro­ced­ur­al mo­tions should not be on the whip team, a policy that has already caused two mem­bers to part ways with the group. Ross felt that after prom­ising con­stitu­ents in his Flor­ida dis­trict that he would nev­er sup­port a bill that did not block Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion, he could not in good con­science vote against a pro­ced­ur­al mo­tion that would have killed the Sen­ate-passed bill, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­i­ar with the en­counter. Scal­ise did not ac­cept his resig­na­tion.

Scal­ise’s and Ross’s of­fices de­clined to com­ment.

Not only has Scal­ise been un­able to bring the con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers on board, he is act­ively be­ing out-whipped by them, mem­bers said. The House Free­dom Caucus, an up­start group of hard­line Re­pub­lic­ans, is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial in the con­fer­ence, and in the case of the DHS vote, their strident ob­jec­tions to any clean bill caused even mem­bers who might oth­er­wise vote with lead­er­ship to turn their backs. In the fi­nal stretch on the House floor, the task of passing the three-week bill be­came so Sy­si­phean that Scal­ise did not even en­gage his seni­or deputy whips, ac­cord­ing to two mem­bers with know­ledge of the op­er­a­tion.

Elevating Scalise after his disastrous performance over the past 15 months would be a slap in the face of House conservatives and inevitably lead to more blown vote counts and embarrassments for the GOP.

[mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000591′ ] is not perfect, but he represents a large and measurable improvement over [mc_name name=’Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001176′ ] as Majority Leader. House Conservatives who are wanting to meaningfully change the leadership team should focus on this race to ensure that they at least have a voice at the table.