The race for House majority leader took a dramatic turn as Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price unexpectedly got two major endorsements from GOP colleagues.
After GOP Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers announced she would not run for majority leader, the race became a one-on-one showdown between Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Price.
As lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill Monday from their recent recess, both House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling weighed in strongly for Price in the three-candidate race to succeed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (who on Monday made it official he is running to succeed soon to resign Speaker John Boehner).
A physician and former Georgia state legislator, Price is considered one of his party’s best spokesmen on the issue of healthcare. He is a tea party darling and a favorite of the conservative backbenchers in the House who complained frequently that they were losing ground under Boehner in spite of their strong Republican majority.
There are other factors that may be fueling a subtle surge by GOP lawmakers toward Price for majority leader.
Scalise, who was elected whip in January, came under fire following published reports that he had once addressed a group run for notorious Louisiana white supremacist David Duke. Scalise insisted he did not know of the group’s Duke connection and black colleagues of both parties rushed to his defense.
But there were strong signs that Democrats had not forgotten this and planned to revive the controversy.
On Sept. 18, one week before Boehner announced his resignation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest referred to what he called Donald Trump’s “cynical strategy” of cultivating enemies of President Obama who questioned his birth on U.S. soil. And he chose the moment to work in the Duke connection.
“Other Republicans who successfully used this strategy as well," Earnest told reporters, without referring to Scalise by name. "You will recall one Republican congressman told a reporter that he was David Duke without the baggage. That congressman was elected by a majority of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to the third highest ranking position in the house."
Recalling Earnest’s words, one House Republican who requested anonymity told me: “We love Steve, but that’s got some of us a little worried.”
Also working in Price’s favor, several sources told me, is the very likely succession to Boehner by close ally McCarthy (who still faces a challenge from Florida’s conservative Rep. Dan Webster but is considered the strong favorite for the speakership).
“There’s a real desire to shake up the leadership here, but that doesn’t mean shake up every single position,” one conservative lawmaker told me, “But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you just move someone up one more chair in the food chain, either.”
In accepting the succession of McCarthy in the “food chain,” the same lawmaker said, “You keep the folks who are now mad at leadership happy by making Tom Price his No. 2.”
“I’m meeting all three candidates for majority leader,” said Rep. Walter Jones, who is so far undecided in the race. “I’ve got three commitments I want from my eventual candidates: that no one be punished for voting against leadership, that no one in leadership runs TV ads against our own members in primaries, and there is a hearing on every bill that goes to committee."
Jones added, “Boehner made these promises and forgot them all. I want the next leadership team never to forget any of them.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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