Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise has fired the group's longtime executive director, Paul Teller, multiple sources told National Journal.
The reason for the dismissal, according to sources familiar with the situation, is that Teller allegedly shared sensitive conversations between RSC members with outside advocacy groups, some of whom hold policy positions counter to the RSC.
"No staffer is above a member," said one senior Republican aide familiar with the situation. "Paul was divulging private, member-level conversations and actively working against RSC strategies supported by House conservatives."
Teller could not immediately be reached for comment.
The move comes as Scalise, who has not stated whether he will support the budget compromised brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, is attempting to take the temperature of his members on the agreement.
Scalise was meeting individually with top conservative lawmakers, including former RSC Chairman Jim Jordan, before Wednesday's RSC gathering. Jordan, who is close to Teller, initially said the meeting was about Ryan's budget agreement. But it became clear afterward that other things, including Teller's dismissal, were discussed.
"Paul's a good man, and he's been helpful to the conservative movement," Jordan said. "But the chairman is the chairman. And I support the chairman's decision."
On his way into the RSC meeting, Scalise emphasized that he remained undecided on Ryan's deal. "We're going to talk about that in here," he said.
Teller, a staunch conservative with long-standing ties to outside groups opposing the deal, is accused of working behind the scenes to derail the budget agreement.
It's not the first time he's played both sides, according to several Republicans. In fact, they say Teller's firing was a long time coming.
"This wasn't ideological. He leaked against RSC members all the time," said another senior GOP aide. "He worked against bills sponsored by members without the chairman knowing."
At the same time, the leaders of some conservative outside groups rushed to Teller's defense after news broke of his firing. "Paul Teller is an American hero," tweeted Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth.
The dismissal was announced to members at Wednesday's closed-door meeting. Shortly after the caucus gathered around lunchtime, dozens of staffers were asked to leave the room, an unusual move that typically signals Scalise's desire to discuss a sensitive matter with RSC members only.
Scalise informed members at the meeting that he had asked for Teller's resignation, and that Teller accepted. But the chairman did not elaborate on why the decision was made. "If you want to discuss the details, call my office," Scalise said, according to members present.
The decision was apparently made unilaterally by Scalise. Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, a member of the RSC steering committee, said she was surprised by the news of Teller's firing. "I didn't find out about it until I walked in the room," she said.
Other RSC members were caught off guard as well. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, did not attend the meeting but was "very disappointed" at the news.
"Paul's one of the most effective staffers on the Hill," Huelskamp said. "He helps our cause. And firing him does not."
Teller joined the RSC in 2001 as legislative director and quickly assumed the role of executive director, a position he's held for more than 10 years. He has been in the crosshairs before. When Scalise won an upset victory to become RSC chairman before the 113th Congress, House leadership officials urged him to dismiss Teller. But RSC members, many of them having known Teller for years, successfully lobbied for him to stay on.
Teller's reputation is rooted in his grassroots approach to politics, which sometimes prizes conflict over compromise. Under his direction, the RSC has witnessed several intense ideological battles--both internal and external--that have cemented his status on Capitol Hill as a conservative agitator. When asked about his group's hardball tactics earlier this year, Teller told National Journal: "We're not there to smile and nod."
There is no immediate word on who will replace Teller as executive director, a pivotal position that helps organize weekly meetings and policy papers for the caucus of more than 170 House Republicans.
This article appears in the December 12, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.