McMorris Rodgers, Tom Price vie to become Republican conference chair

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON – With one election down, it’s on to the next one. On Wednesday, Georgia Rep. Tom Price and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will face off to see who will become the next Republican Conference Chair of the United States House of Representatives, the number four position in House Republican leadership.

McMorris Rodgers, who represents Washington’s 5th Congressional District, is currently the conference vice chair, making her the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress. Price is a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

The election will take place on Wednesday by secret ballot, but backers of the two candidates are lining up publicly.

On McMorris Rodgers’ side are the House leadership, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, and a number of committee chairs — McMorris Rodgers’ camp claims fifteen, including energy and commerce committee chair Rep. Fred Upton.

Officially, the leadership is staying out of it — both Boehner’s office and Majority Leader Eric Cantor declined to comment — but Boehner got involved last week when, looking to avert a showdown, he offered Price the ceremonial chairmanship of the Elected Leadership Council.

Price turned down the offer, Buzzfeed reported.

In Price’s corner, the big name is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who was recently the party’s vice presidential nominee. Also backing Price are some stalwart conservatives in the House: Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Mike Pence.

Outside of Congress, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin and Freedomworks have also endorsed Price. They may not directly give Price votes, but their support helps Price by casting the race as a microcosm of the larger question facing the Republican Party about how to move forward: Should the party more strongly emphasize conservative principles, or  “evolve” on certain issues?

Price, according to Malkin’s tweets, represents a conservative “willing to push back.” The other option, she tweeted in the midst of a string of tweets about Price, would be “pandering to Left’s identity politics above staunch conservative leadership.”

Price’s election “would signal a clear commitment by the GOP to renew their promise to American taxpayers to advance fiscally responsible policy in Washington,” said Freedomworks press secretary Jackie Bodnar.

McMorris Rodgers’ supporters have pushed back hard against the idea that she is any less conservative than Price.

Rep. Tim Scott, a vocal supporter of her leadership bid, noted that, looking at six different rankings of members, McMorris Rodgers and Price are very close together on the political spectrum.

A senior Republican aide familiar with McMorris Rodgers’ whip count said she “hasn’t lost a single vote” since Ryan, whose profile increased with his vice presidential run, sent a letter to colleagues this week reiterating his support for Price, whom he has been openly supporting since before he was selected as the vice presidential nominee.

Supporters of McMorris Rodgers cite her successful tenure as vice chair of the conference.

“The critical piece from my perspective,” said Scott, “is if the person is second in charge has performed her charge very well, why would you not put her at the top of the food chain, or put her at the helm of the ship?”

“I think she’s done a fantastic job on our social media,” Scott added. “She understands the need for a stronger footprint in the social media forum.”

“One of the lessons that we see taking away from the last four years of elections is the growing need for us to capture the audience where they want to be captured,” he went on.

The fact that McMorris Rodgers is a woman does not hurt, and though Malkin may decry it as “identity politics,” some see having a woman in leadership as a boon for the Republican Party in the wake of an election that suggested that demographic was not too fond of them.

It’s an asset McMorris Rodgers has been emphasizing.

An entire section of a video sent by McMorris Rodgers to the congressional class of 2010 and the incoming freshman class last week was devoted to her fight against the Democrats’ assertion that Republicans are inciting a “war on women.”

It’s also an angle, Buzzfeed reported, that she has emphasized in last-minute talks with conference members.

Price’s office declined to comment on the record, because the congressman “believes this decision should be made through discussion and consultation with his colleagues, not through the press.”

The way the two sides have shaken out has some suggesting that tomorrow’s ballot will be a test of Boehner’s ability to influence his caucus, and a precursor to battles down the road between leadership and some of the rank-and-file members — a storyline that has lingered since last year’s debt-ceiling fight.

This time around, however, Republicans are pushing back at the notion of intra-party disagreement.

“I think that’s an overstatement,” said Rep. Tim Scott, a vocal supporter of McMorris Rodgers. The only test of Boehner’s leadership, he said, is when “we vote for or against the speaker.”

One Republican aide called the assertion that the vote will be a test of Boehner “just plain dumb.”

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Alexis Levinson