Why give up "the best job in the world" to pursue another position with equal pay, less prestige, fewer perks, and a lower profile—especially when you aren't guaranteed to get that gig anyway?
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., is under pressure from Republican power brokers to run for the Senate next year. The party loyalist in him is considering it. But to everyone around Rogers—and probably to the lawmaker himself—the move just doesn’t add up.
Serving his seventh term, Rogers has carved out an enviable niche in the lower chamber. A former FBI special agent, he is chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee. With that position comes a bounty of benefits: He regularly travels to meet with influential leaders around the globe; he is privy to top-level intelligence briefings that are off-limits to almost everyone else in Washington, and the world; and he has an outsized platform for his policy goals, appearing frequently on nationally televised news shows.
In short, Rogers is a major player in Congress. Thanks to ongoing U.S. involvement in the Middle East, a bloody Syrian civil war, Iran's nuclear threat, North Korea's belligerence, the fallout from Benghazi, and region-wide reverberations from the Arab Spring, the House Intelligence Committee chairman has one of the most consequential jobs on Capitol Hill.
"If it were peacetime, we'd be having a whole different conversation. He'd be taking a stronger look at it," said the House member's older brother, Michigan state Rep. Bill Rogers. "But that's not the situation we're in.... Every time he has the chance to talk to people about [a potential Senate campaign], something blows up around the world."
Bill Rogers doesn't know for certain what his brother will decide. But based on a recent conversation, he said he would be surprised if Mike surrenders his chairmanship and runs for Senate. "He told me, 'I have the position I want, and I'm very comfortable in that position.'"
Even if Rogers runs and wins—which is far from a sure thing, given that the Wolverine State hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1994—he would be stuck on the lowest rung of the seniority ladder. Instead of chairing one of Congress's most powerful committees, Rogers would be known simply as the junior senator from Michigan. And unless his Republican Party picks up four other Senate seats in 2014—again, not a sure bet—he would be trading majority standing in the House for minority status in the Senate.
It all points to Rogers passing on a Senate bid.
While the chairman has kept his cards close to the vest, insisting for months he's considering the race and won't rush to announce his decision, multiple people close to Rogers—some of whom have heard him describe his current position as "the best job in the world"—see a Senate campaign as increasingly unlikely.
One of those people is former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a member of the Republican National Committee and a longtime Rogers ally. Land, who has for months been discussed as a potential U.S. Senate candidate, made it clear she would defer to Rogers should he decide to enter the race. But Land recently ran out of patience. In a phone call with Rogers last week, Land told him that she was running for the Senate. His response?
"He wished me well and said we'd be in touch," Land said.
Asked if she took their conversation to mean that Rogers will not run, Land said, "I feel very comfortable after my discussion with him.... I'm sure if he had any reservation [about me running] he would have told me."
Land's decision to enter the race is only the most recent sign that Rogers won't run.
For months, operatives in both parties, including those working for potential rivals, have said plainly that Rogers will take a pass. Some have suggested that his duties as Intelligence chairman are too demanding to simultaneously juggle a tough, time-intensive Senate race. Others aren't sure Rogers could win an asymmetrical campaign against a potential primary rival, Rep. Justin Amash, a young libertarian capable of waging a guerrilla operation with the assistance of unlimited funds from outside groups. Still others suggested that Rogers would hold out for something else, such as the position of FBI director. (President Obama last week nominated James Comey for the post, making moot any designs Rogers might have had on that job.)
There is also the question of timing. If Rogers wanted to announce a Senate bid, there would no better venue than the Mackinac Policy Conference, an annual gathering of the state's political and business leaders on scenic Mackinac Island. The event, sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber, would afford any statewide candidate unparalleled access to campaign donors, business backers, and opinion leaders. Rogers spoke at the conference Friday but made no mention of running for the Senate. He did, however, speak at length about cybersecurity threats, specifically highlighting his push to pass the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, which cleared the House in April and awaits action in the Senate. To some observers, Rogers's speech underscored his priorities: policy over politics.
There are some, of course, who see this as Rogers's greatest strength—an inclination to put serious policy discussions ahead of fiery political rhetoric. To win statewide in light-blue Michigan, home of the original "Reagan Democrat," a Republican candidate must appeal to a large swath of independent voters. It's no secret that the Michigan Republican Party, burned by the bumbling 2012 campaign run by Senate nominee Pete Hoekstra, views Rogers as its most electable candidate and wants keenly to see him in the race.
"Enough people called him that he said, 'I'll give it serious consideration.' If they hadn't called, we wouldn't be having this conversation," said his brother Bill. "But people called and asked him to consider it, so he's honoring that."
Rogers's office declined to comment for this story.
He may still shock everyone and decide to run. If he does, Rogers would be the immediate front-runner for the Republican nomination. If he gets the Michigan GOP's clandestine support, he would be tough to topple in a primary. And if he advances to the general election, teaming on a ticket with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder—a moderate who won by 18 points in 2010—Rogers could very well defeat the de facto Democratic nominee, Rep. Gary Peters.
But that's an awful lot of "ifs" facing someone who enjoys a powerful chairmanship and a safe congressional district that’s poised to keep reelecting him until he decides to retire.
Nothing is guaranteed in politics. Ironically enough, it was Hoekstra's retirement in 2010 that made Rogers the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. (Hoekstra left Congress to run for governor; he lost to Snyder in the GOP primary.) When it came to the Senate race, Hoekstra was seen as a safe bet, a soft-spoken statesman who could appeal to independents and win the "electability" argument. Instead, he became a caricature after running an ineffective TV ad with bizarre racial undertones, and eventually lost by 20 points to incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Once a respected lawmaker with considerable influence in Congress, Hoekstra is now a punch line in Michigan politics and an afterthought when talk turns to the state's Republican hierarchy.
Such a fate seems unlikely for Mike Rogers. To be marginalized, you first have to lose. And to lose, you first have to run. According to those who know him best, Rogers doesn't seem eager to do either.