What Happened Inside the House GOP Leadership Election

Midnight calls. Headcounting by clipboard. Speeches to secure every key vote. Scalise’s route to the win showed his skill as a whip.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (L) speaks to members of the media as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (R) listens after a leadership election at a House Republican Conference meeting June 19, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House GOPs have picked Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the new House majority leader and Scalise as the new majority whip. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
June 19, 2014, 4:34 p.m.

The doors flung open and a steely-eyed Steve Scal­ise emerged, look­ing part-politi­cian and part-prize fight­er, “Eye of the Ti­ger” blast­ing from be­hind him, as he shuffled his feet and made his way to the ring.

Well, it wasn’t ex­actly a ring; the bout was to be held in­side the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee hear­ing room in the Long­worth House Of­fice Build­ing. But the op­u­lent set­ting did little to al­ter the ap­pear­ance of an im­min­ent brawl. Scal­ise and his army of dark-suited sup­port­ers had marched to Long­worth to­geth­er across an empty street, and upon ar­riv­ing they seemed to be search­ing for a rival gang to rumble with.

The main event was draw­ing all the at­ten­tion, but as al­ways, there would first be an un­der­card. Iron­ic­ally, in this case, the less con­ten­tious con­test was for the big­ger prize: the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s of­fice be­ing va­cated by Eric Can­tor.

Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, the odds-on fa­vor­ite whose ex­per­i­ence had pre­pared him per­fectly for this mo­ment, squared off with Rep. Raul Lab­rador, the scrappy un­der­dog who nev­er had a chance. Each em­ployed a pop­u­lar con­ser­vat­ive to de­liv­er a nom­in­at­ing ad­dress — Rep. Tom Graves was in Mc­Carthy’s corner while Rep. Jim Jordan sided with Lab­rador — and then some second­ing speeches were giv­en for good meas­ure.

It was nev­er a fair fight. Jordan gave a strong speech, ar­guing that “people are scared” and look­ing for bold lead­er­ship. It cap­tiv­ated the room and in­spired fleet­ing il­lu­sions of vic­tory. But an up­set wasn’t meant to be. Mc­Carthy won — prob­ably by knock­out. Though some mem­bers pushed for the tally to be re­leased, the pro­pos­al was dis­missed, and Lab­rador in an act of sports­man­ship asked that the re­cord re­flect a un­an­im­ous win for Mc­Carthy.

The comity wouldn’t last. Mc­Carthy’s win meant his job, ma­jor­ity whip, would soon be va­cated. This was the con­test every­one came to see. Three can­did­ates — Reps. Scal­ise of Louisi­ana, Peter Roskam of Illinois, and Marlin Stutz­man of In­di­ana — would com­pete for the post, but all eyes were on Scal­ise. He had been the fa­vor­ite throughout, amass­ing an enorm­ous team of sup­port­ers and run­ning a well-oiled whip­ping ma­chine that saw law­makers mak­ing mid­night calls and aides with clip­boards count­ing heads at Thursday’s meet­ing.

Scal­ise was con­fid­ent, and every­one knew it. The night be­fore he’d dined with dozens of sup­port­ers at a Louisi­ana fish joint, thank­ing them for their tire­less work and hand­ing out cus­tom­ized base­ball bats to com­mem­or­ate their im­pend­ing vic­tory. The bats, made by a com­pany in Scal­ise’s back­yard, were en­graved: “Bring the Wood…Scal­ise Whip Team 2014…Geaux!!!”

No one doubted Scal­ise was the front-run­ner com­ing in. The only ques­tion was wheth­er he could win a ma­jor­ity — 116 of the 231 votes be­ing cast — to claim an out­right vic­tory and avoid a second bal­lot. Roskam and Stutz­man knew they couldn’t beat him ini­tially; their only hope was to force a head-to-head run­off, and then hope to steal a huge bloc of sup­port­ers from the elim­in­ated last-place can­did­ate.

They were nom­in­ated in al­pha­bet­ic­al or­der. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Car­o­lina, who’s lead­ing a se­lect com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­a­tion on the events in Benghazi, praised his pan­el­ist, Roskam, as a col­lab­or­at­or who brings mem­bers to­geth­er. Rep. Kev­in Brady of Texas, a soft-spoken con­ser­vat­ive who com­mands re­spect throughout the con­fer­ence, vouched for the per­son­al de­cency of his room­mate, Scal­ise. Fi­nally, Rep. Tom Reed, an alum­nus of Stutz­man’s class of 2010, touted the Hoo­si­er’s com­mit­ment to an open policy-mak­ing pro­cess — and drew the loudest cheers of the af­ter­noon by sa­lut­ing Can­tor, their out­go­ing lead­er.

But the strength of Scal­ise’s co­ali­tion was too much to over­come. As evid­enced by his choice of sec­ond­ary speak­ers — Kristi Noem, prov­ing his pop­ular­ity among high-pro­file Re­pub­lic­an wo­men; and Bill Shuster, a key mem­ber of the up-for-grabs Pennsylvania del­eg­a­tion — Scal­ise had every demo­graph­ic covered. South­ern­ers, wo­men, Mid­west­ern­ers, con­ser­vat­ives, mod­er­ates — he won them all.

Team Scal­ise smelled vic­tory in the air. A small le­gion of aides and sup­port­ers — in­clud­ing vo­lun­teers who hadn’t got­ten paid to work late nights and long hours on Scal­ise’s be­half — crowded the hall­ways out­side the Long­worth meet­ing room, cam­er­as in hand to doc­u­ment the mo­ment, wait­ing to ex­plode.

Soon they got their chance. A massive cheer went up in­side the room as Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers an­nounced that Scal­ise had won the elec­tion out­right, and mo­ments later, Scal­ise’s sup­port­ers erup­ted in the hall­way.

Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship had a new top three.

Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise took turns at the po­di­um be­hind closed doors, the lead­er-elect and whip-elect ad­dress­ing their col­leagues for the first time from their new perches. Then they broke through a me­dia gaunt­let and ex­ecuted a brief press con­fer­ence, mak­ing prom­ises and thank­ing col­leagues and smil­ing for the cam­er­as. It ended ab­ruptly and the vic­tors went their sep­ar­ate ways, trailed by re­port­ers ask­ing ques­tions about what comes next and wheth­er they’re wor­ried about the up­com­ing round of con­fer­ence elec­tions in Novem­ber.

The smiles dis­ap­peared. That’s the thing about heavy­weight bouts — there’s al­ways a re­match right around the corner.

What We're Following See More »
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.