Rep. Steve Scalise will soon be replaced as chairman of the Republican Study Committee by Rep. Rob Woodall, who, upon his expected election next month, will serve as caretaker of the group for several months until regularly-scheduled elections are held in November.
The appointment of Woodall, a second-term Georgian who presently chairs the RSC's Budget and Spending Task Force, was proposed during Wednesday's meeting of the RSC. But some members, including Rep. Tom McClintock, objected on procedural grounds and demanded a vote be held to elect the interim chairman.
That election will be held July 9, after lawmakers return from next week's recess. Woodall is universally expected to be chosen as the RSC's short-term chairman at that point.
"This was purely procedural," McClintock said after Wednesday's meeting. "I'm going to be voting for Rob Woodall."
"It's a technical thing," said Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the "founders" or former chairmen of the group. Because the group's bylaws state that an election must be held to choose a new leader — even on an interim basis — Jordan said members felt more comfortable voting on Woodall's appintment.
Top RSC leaders — that is, Scalise and the former chairman — formally asked Woodall on Tuesday to serve as a caretaker chairman until the November elections. He accepted with the understanding that he will not seek a full two-year term as chairman in the upcoming Congress.
"Absolutely I will not," Woodall confirmed Wednesday when asked whether he'll seek a full term as RSC chairman.
Once Woodall is elected July 9, there will be a one-week transition period before Scalise steps down on July 16. With a scant number of legislative days between then and November's elections, Woodall is not expected to ruffle any feathers at RSC.
Scalise, in tandem with RSC leadership, also introduced on Wednesday a proposal that would fundamentally alter the way the group's leader is chosen.
The RSC, a caucus of more than 170 self-styled conservative House Republicans, has for nearly 20 years had its chairman selected by a small group of former chairmen known on Capitol Hill as "The Founders." (When Scalise steps aside, there will be five members of this group: Scalise, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Tom Price, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, and Rep. Sam Johnson.)
On several occasions the founders' pick of a chairman has been challenged by another candidate, who, after collecting signatures from 25 percent of the membership, can then force a group-wide runoff vote. This happened most recently in 2012, when the founders endorsed Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia — only to see him lose to Scalise, the current RSC chairman, in a hotly-contested election.
Seeking to avoid such internecine clashes in the future — which put the founders in the unenviable position of publicly rejecting a candidate who may soon join their exclusive club — RSC leaders are suggesting a new method for choosing a chairman. Under the proposed rule tweak, the founders would interview any member interested in the chairmanship, and then endorse multiple candidates to advance to an election. This would allow the RSC to function more democratically, while still preserving the founders' role of weeding out ill-suited candidates.
"It would open things up, but the founders would still play a major role in the selection process," said one RSC steering committee member, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the rule change.
The proposed rule change must be ratified by the RSC membership. A vote will likely be held on July 9, the same day members choose an interim chairman.
Now that Woodall has been tapped to serve as a caretaker — with assurances that he will not seek a full term, and therefore does not enjoy a head start on that competition — the candidates to become RSC chairman in the next progress will continue campaigning for the regularly-scheduled November election.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who is enormously popular among younger members in the group and has strong personal relationships with the founders, is the early front-runner to take over in the 114th Congress. But several other lawmakers are expected to compete with Mulvaney for the RSC gavel. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas has already declared his candidacy, and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland is said to be seriously considering a run.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, who lost last week's special election for majority whip, has not ruled out an RSC campaign. However, another loser from last week's elections — Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho — said definitively last Friday that he would not run for RSC chairman.
This story was updated Wednesday afternoon after the RSC meeting.