They may be in the majority, but many House Republicans feel irrelevant.
That’s the problem both candidates for House majority leader promised to fix when they delivered their pitches to the rank and file at a closed door meeting.
“I want every member to feel relevant again,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, pledged when he addressed a crowd of about 50 lawmakers. “I want you to feel like you did the first day you came to Congress. Do you remember that day? That was an amazing day filled with endless possibilities.”
First elected in 2010, Labrador is the underdog candidate against House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. McCarthy backers say the four-term lawmaker has already won the support of more than half the conference. The election is Thursday.
Despite his apparently wide lead over Labrador, McCarthy echoed Labrador’s campaign pledge for a more inclusive GOP conference, say those who heard both speeches.
It’s a signal that McCarthy knows that while many in the conference are willing to vote for him, they don’t like the leadership’s top-down approach running the House.
“Both of them say we are going to go back to regular order, which is important,” an undecided Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., told the Washington Examiner, referring to a process by which legislation first churns through a committee prior to floor consideration. “Both of them say we want to have all voices heard and both of them are very sincere about that.”
Labrador has built his candidacy around the notion that many lawmakers feel disenfranchised by the leadership, who they say have made unilateral decisions without giving weight to their views. They also complain that senior leadership staff are calling the shots and command more power than elected lawmakers. Labrador told the crowd Wednesday morning that 80 percent of the House GOP feels like they are being ignored by the leadership.
“Why are we even here if the leadership staff is going to make all decisions any way?” Labrador asked the GOP this morning.
Lawmakers have been frustrated this year with a series of bills that were altered at the last minute, brokered behind closed doors or ushered through by an unplanned voice vote.
The most conservative faction of the House GOP is also the group that feels the most neglected. These lawmakers, many of whom are relative newcomers backed by the Tea Party, surged to relevancy last year when the House leadership endorsed their proposal to strip funding for Obamacare from the 2014 government spending bill.
The move resulted in a government shutdown that the public blamed on the GOP.
Republican leaders, burned by the shutdown, began circumventing their most conservative wing, who they feel led the House GOP into an historic dive in the polls.
A deal to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and restore budget cuts, for example, was hashed out privately by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., which angered conservative members.
House GOP leaders shut out members on smaller bills, too.
In March, House leaders angered their rank and file by voice-voting an expensive patch to prevent Medicare payment rates from dropping, a procedure that blocked conservative opponents from defeating the legislation.
“I think there was an agreement across the board that we are very, very frustrated,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a Labrador supporter, told the Washington Examiner. “A lot of us ran for office wanting to be relevant and most of us feel really irrelevant because a handful of leadership and staff that call all the decisions around here. Members who have been duly elected don’t have much of a choice.”
Longtime members were less critical of the top-down approach and several of them told the Examiner that McCarthy would likely prevail because lawmakers are seeking stability in the GOP leadership after the sudden loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is stepping down after losing his Virginia primary.
“McCarthy is ready to hit the ground running,” Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., told the Examiner. “You’re not going to have a learning curve. And I think we need some continuity with this disruption that has occurred.”