Washington — U.S. House Republicans assembled late Tuesday afternoon for a big-picture strategy discussion in the midst of a pitched battles for key leadership positions, including a campaign by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, to move up one rung to majority leader, No. 2 in the hierarchy.
“We talked about relationships and concepts,” Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, said after the meeting, adding that there were no specific discussions about policy.
The meeting was initiated by Congressman Peter Roskam, of Illinois, who has urged his colleagues to figure out what they want from their leaders before they choose them: “First the plan, then the person,” Roskam said as he headed into the meeting.
The scramble among the majority Republicans was touched off Friday when Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, stunned the House by announcing that he would step down at the end of October. Boehner faced repeated challenges to his leadership from dyed-in-the-red-wool conservatives who reject compromises on issues such as immigration, defunding Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal and others that would run into the stone wall of a veto by Democratic President Barack Obama if pushed that far.
“Because of the turmoil, there have been some scars, and it was a chance to heal some scars,” Fleming said of the Tuesday meeting. “People vented.”
Fleming is a founder of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 members organized early this year to push the Republicans’ agenda harder to the right. A coup against Boehner that fomented within the caucus likely factored into his decision to quit. Boehner has denounced “false prophets” within the party, such as some HFC members who advocate a more confrontational approach to the White House — and who, Boehner and his allies say, promise more than they can deliver.
Fleming said that in football, even a 50-point underdog shows up to play — and sometimes, the long shot wins.
No leadership candidates spoke at the meeting, several attendees said.
“We want to function more as a team, and I think we’re on the path to doing that,” Carlos Curbelo, of Florida, said after the meeting.
Scalise, 49, is considered a strong contender for majority leader. If he wins the post, he would be the highest-ranking member of Congress from Louisiana since New Orleans Democrat Hale Boggs served as House majority leader in 1971-72 before disappearing on a flight in Alaska.
His main opponent is Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, of Georgia, who has corralled some key endorsements. The field was thinned late Monday when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, announced she would remain as chairwoman of the Republican Conference, the formal organization of the 247 House Republicans. She had been considered a probable candidate for majority leader. Her position is No. 4 on the organizational chart, just below Scalise at No. 3, and her decision to step aside could boost Scalise’s standing among Republicans loyal to the party’s formal structure, one House Republican staffer said.
The majority leader consults with the speaker on policy and manages the flow of legislation on the House floor. The whip counts Republican votes and rounds up support for the leadership agenda. The current majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, is considered the favorite to succeed Boehner.
The speaker is elected by the full House in a public vote. The other posts are filled by Republican members voting by secret ballot. No date has been set for the elections, but they are expected in the coming weeks.
Scalise, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, was chosen whip in June 2014, in another shuffle initiated by the defeat of then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary. McCarthy, who was then whip, succeeded Cantor.
Roskam, who had been chief deputy whip under McCarthy, lost to Scalise in the 2014 campaign for whip. He has been talked about as a candidate for leadership in the current realignment, but he has not committed to run for any position.
Scalise sent letters to his Republican colleagues Monday asking for their support in his bid for majority leader, and he also convened a meeting near the Capitol Monday to tout his ability to raise money for them.
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