Republicans play detective on leadership skirmish leaks

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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Republicans are supposed to be focusing on the election every minute, every second.

But with Irish bookies already paying out bets that Republicans will take back the House, who are you kidding? Of course Republicans are maneuvering behind the scenes to grab leadership slots, committee chairmanships, plum office space and God knows what else.

Two recent episodes, one in the House and one in the Senate, show GOP officials are keenly watching the news for power plays and backbiting. Often, that means a game of “who leaked?”

When Politico ran as its top story that House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence might be vacating his spot in leadership, for instance, key GOP aides found deep meaning in the timing.

“I’m told by good sources that he has in no way made a decision and will not do so until after the election, so this Politico story clearly came from someone trying to force his hand,” one aide said.

“If you read the Politico story, there is NO NEWS in it. It’s a recap of what everyone already knew (that Pence was pondering). Sooooo, the question is who is powerful enough to convince Politico to run a non-story to force Pence’s hand?   Hmmmmm….” the aide said.

Others filled in the question, saying House Minority Leader John Boehner, who’s standing ready to become the Republican Speaker of the House next January, probably pumped up the issue to get an answer out of Pence on whether he’ll be a part of his team.

But that theory has its critics, too.

“I don’t think it’s in Boehner’s interest to have this play out in public,” said another House GOP aide, “’cause now he’s gonna get asked about who replaces him instead of trying to do this all hush hush.”

Boehner’s office did not offer public comment on the episode. Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for Pence, noted Pence’s campaign stops in states across the country and said Pence “believes that speculating about who will occupy what leadership position in the next Congress is ‘looking past the playoffs’ and out of place.”

A leadership leak whodunit also took place Monday on the Senate side.

Then, the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman tweeted that conservative favorite Sen. Tom Coburn would be serving as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s emissary to incoming freshman GOP senators.

“Republican Senate official: Sen. Tom Coburn will be named liaison to incoming Senate Freshman Republicans in McConnell end run around DeMint,” Weisman tweeted.

If it were true, the announcement would be hugely important. Because Coburn is so well-respected by conservatives, his alliance with McConnell would be a major coup for the minority leader, who faces suspicion from the right wing flank of his caucus.

It would also mitigate the coming hurricane of between six and ten Tea Party or otherwise aggressive conservative senators coming to Washington. Insiders expect the Sharron Angles, Rand Pauls and Ken Bucks of the world to be bulls in the Senate china shop.

As it turned out, however, Coburn had not even discussed the move with McConnell, according to Coburn’s spokesman.

“Coburn hasn’t even had that discussion with McConnell. You’ll have to check with McConnell’s office,” said Coburn’s spokesman, John Hart, when asked about Weisman’s tweet.

McConnell’s flack, Don Stewart, said Weisman “cited a GOP Senate source (not our office)” and noted that McConnell has “made no announcements about the leadership team.”

Conservatives inside and outside the Senate were pretty suspicious about the leak, though. The aides eyed McConnell – and one of his top allies, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.

“I think the real story here is McConnell vs. [South Carolina Republican Senator and conservative favorite Jim] DeMint. McConnell has consistently tried to use Coburn to tamp down conservative opposition from the DeMint wing in the Senate. All of his overtures are consistent with that goal. I have to assume this fake announcement today was meant to scare DeMint — the logic being that every time DeMint tried to get the new guys to do something conservative, Coburn would pimp McConnell’s message to do the opposite. That logic is of course absurd,” said a former Senate aide.