The second session of the 113th Congress is nearly upon us, and with 2014 being an election year, political junkies can expect the action on Capitol Hill to center around personalities rather than policies. In the months ahead, Republicans in the House majority will begin maneuvering themselves into optimal position not only for their own reelection bids but for bigger roles in the House GOP – perhaps even a leadership post in the 114th Congress.
With that in mind, here are five House Republicans to keep an eye on in 2014:
The majority leader has often avoided the spotlight while working hard behind the scenes on member-service initiatives meant to secure the trust of rank-and-file Republicans. The strategy makes sense: Cantor wants to maintain his standing as a loyal lieutenant to Speaker John Boehner while ensuring that he keeps his place in line if, in fact, Boehner decides to step down before 2015. Cantor has long been viewed as heir apparent to the speakership. But with other House Republicans, especially Paul Ryan, emerging as potential successors to Boehner, Cantor may feel some urgency to assert himself this year –both in front of the cameras and behind closed doors.
Ryan, like Cantor, had labored largely behind the scenes during the first session of the 113th Congress. But now, with a bipartisan budget agreement under his belt, Ryan may become the Republican spokesperson in 2014. It would signal for Ryan a return to center stage, where he has existed during previous election cycles (because of his controversial budgets and campaign for the vice presidency.) Ryan is term-limited as the Budget Committee chairman and recently confirmed his interest in taking over the Ways and Means panel. That means Ryan will likely spend some of 2014 laying the groundwork for tax reform efforts in 2015 and beyond. But just as Cantor will be keeping an eye on Boehner, GOP aides expect Ryan to perform due diligence and keep his powder dry in the event a leadership position – perhaps even the top one – unexpectedly opens up.
The Republican Study Committee chairman has received largely positive reviews from his GOP comrades for his strategy of "putting points on the board" and steering clear of nasty internecine conflicts with Boehner's leadership team. But Scalise also has come under fire from some conservatives for removing the Heritage Foundation from the RSC's weekly meeting and firing the group's longtime executive director, Paul Teller. (Scalise said both moves were aimed at restoring the RSC's reputation as a "member-driven" organization.) Scalise spared himself further criticism by opposing Ryan's budget deal, but where he steers the RSC in 2014 could go a long way toward determining his future in Congress. Will he follow former RSC chairmen Jeb Hensarling and Tom Price and facilitate intra-party unity in hopes of securing a leadership position after his chairmanship expires? Or will he follow the example of his predecessor, Jim Jordan, whose hardline stances at the RSC alienated him from the leadership team while securing his standing as a de facto leader of the conservative movement on Capitol Hill?
Many House Republicans were opposed to Ryan's budget compromise but none more vocally than Labrador. The sophomore representative, viewed as a rising star in conservative circles, called Ryan's deal "terrible." Moreover, Labrador charged that such a compromise made him even more "cynical" about the GOP's ability to leverage its House majority to win conservative policy gains. Labrador left Washington in mid-December visibly disgusted with the trajectory of the House GOP; whether his visceral frustration subsides in the early months of 2014 could reveal Labrador's intentions for 2015. Labrador is often mentioned as a possible successor to Scalise at the RSC. With the assistance of Jordan, his close friend, Labrador could use 2014 as a launching pad to rally conservatives around his candidacy to chair a more aggressive RSC. Separately, Labrador could use his considerable influence on the issue of immigration reform to either buoy or bury any attempt by Boehner to begin an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
In early discussions with aides and lawmakers regarding a successor to Scalise at the RSC, the only name mentioned more frequently than Labrador is that of Stutzman, a 37 year old serving his second full term in Congress. Stutzman, with his Midwestern mannerisms and agreeable demeanor, has drawn comparisons to Mike Pence – a fellow Hoosier and former RSC chairman. Stutzman is known to have a firm grasp on a wide range of policy issues, and colleagues have taken notice of his vocal presence – not to mention, perfect attendance – at RSC meetings. Stutzman may have hurt his case by voting for Ryan's budget deal, which was opposed by some influential conservatives including Scalise, Jordan, and Labrador. But that vote could very well be ancient history by the time prospective RSC candidates interview for the position next fall. If Stutzman is as fixated on the RSC gig as everyone assumes, he'll use 2014 to underscore his conservative credentials – while avoiding the type of verbal gaffe he made during the October shutdown, when he said, "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."