Representative Steve Scalise is a staunch conservative who, in
assessing President Obama's first 100 days in office in 2009, gave
him a grade he considers far worse than an "F" for failure - an "L"
He is well-respected and well-liked by most members of his party, a
prerequisite for the job of majority whip, whose job it is to drum
up the Republican votes needed to pass bills.
The job is likely to come open this week. The current whip, Kevin
McCarthy, is a strong favorite to win the No.2 House leadership
position in June 19 elections to replace Majority Leader Eric
Cantor is stepping down after a stunning loss last Tuesday to a Tea
Party upstart in Virginia in a primary election ahead of the
November midterm elections. That defeat was a reminder for
Republicans that the Tea Party movement for fiscal conservatism and
small government still has the power to shake them up. The resulting
leadership scramble has also given the party's right wing a chance
to push for one of their own.
Scalise, 48, would seem to fill the bill, although some Tea Partiers
say he is not conservative enough.
He chairs the largest bloc in the U.S. Congress – the Republican
Study Committee, a group of over 170 lawmakers that Scalise has
described as the party's "conservative rudder" in the House. It
often weighs in on budget and deficit issues.
The RSC was founded in 1973 to serve as an ideological rallying
point for conservatives. But its numbers have grown to over
two-thirds of the 233 Republicans now in the House, including most
of the lawmakers who swept into Congress in the Tea Party surge of
In fact with more Republicans identifying themselves as
conservatives, the RSC has become so large that some lawmakers say
it may have lost effectiveness - notably Representative Raul
Labrador, a Tea Partier who said on Friday he was challenging
McCarthy for majority leader. Labrador has been quoted as calling
the RSC a "debate society."
Last year, a group of more hardline House conservatives, including
Labrador, began meeting in what is called the House Liberty Caucus.
Representative Thomas Massie, part of that group, says they number
about 30 - and Scalise is not among them.
Massie said he doubts Scalise is hard-core enough to be a real
spokesman for conservatives when dealing with Boehner and other
members of the more moderate, "establishment" leadership.
"He (Scalise) would be a good whip, but he would not satisfy the
condition of having a conservative at the leadership table, who can
relate the concerns of conservatives to the leadership team," Massie
said in an interview.
Scalise was not available for comment over the weekend.
TWO OTHER CANDIDATES
Two other candidates are vying for the whip job in the secret ballot
election to be held on Thursday: Representative Peter Roskam of
Illinois, who as the current chief deputy whip is considered an
"establishment" Republican, and Representative Marlin Stutzman of
Indiana, a conservative elected in 2010.
Stutzman's entry into the race raises the possibility of a split
conservative vote, making it easier for Roskam.
The new leadership team's ability to bring together the Republicans'
often warring factions will help determine whether the country is in
for more of the budget uncertainty and government shutdowns that in
recent years made business interests uneasy and put Wall Street's
nerves on edge.
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Representative Phil Roe, a conservative who backs Scalise for whip,
said Scalise's experience running the large, "big tent" RSC group
proved he could serve as a bridge between Boehner and less
predictable grass-roots conservatives who think the leadership
compromises too much with Democrats.
"I absolutely believe he can.
I've seen him do it," Roe said in an interview.
Roe noted that Scalise has pressed the House leadership to go beyond
merely calling for a repeal of Obamacare and to have the House vote
on an alternative to the president's healthcare reform law, such as
the one sponsored by Roe and other conservatives. Earlier this year
Cantor promised to have such a vote but so far has not delivered.
Scalise allies said he also demonstrated conservative bona fides by
seeking to beat Representative Paul Ryan’s 10-year balanced budget
plan with a four-year path to balance in the Republican Study
Committee's "Back to Basics Budget” this year. But it did not pass
Coming from Louisiana is considered a plus for Scalise within the
Republican caucus, many of whose members are southerners.
“I think I’ve made it pretty clear that we need somebody from a
southern state” in at least one slot in the leadership race, said
Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.
But his critics note that Scalise, who represents the New Orleans
area, backed a flood insurance bill earlier this year that was
criticized by fiscal conservatives. Scalise said the bill was needed
to bring down insurance rate hikes for homeowners, but critics said
it would undo reforms to the flood insurance program and taxpayers
would end up paying the tab.
In a contest where image may play as much a role as action, some
Republicans said Stutzman would be a better choice as whip because
he is from the large group elected in the 2010 Tea Party surge.
Scalise was elected to Congress in 2008.
“It’s not just an issue of whether Marlin (Stutzman) is more
conservative, it’s representation of the class of 2010,”
Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican who also
was elected to Congress that year, said in an interview.
Scalise may also be seen by some conservatives as too friendly with
current Republican leadership. Mulvaney said that in the 2012 race
for Republican Study Committee chair, Boehner and other Republican
leaders made clear they preferred Scalise over Tom Graves, who was
seen as more independent of leadership.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder, David Morgan and Julia
Edwards; Editing by Caren Bohan and Frances Kerry)
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