Jeb Hensarling Sees ‘Green Light’ to Run for Leadership in November

When he rejected conservative pleas to campaign for Cantor’s job, the Texan wasn’t saying no to a promotion. He was just saying, not now.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) departs with fellow Republicans after speaking on the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. With Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the liberal members of the high court, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Obama Administration's signature legislative accomplishment is constitutional. Also pictured at left is Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
June 20, 2014, 1:15 a.m.

House con­ser­vat­ives fret­ted their fail­ure to re­cruit Rep. Jeb Hensarling in­to this week’s Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship race, but their misery might not last very long.

Hensarling, the pop­u­lar Tex­an who passed on the chance to chal­lenge Rep. Kev­in Mc­Carthy in Thursday’s spe­cial elec­tion, ap­pears poised to run for one of the top two lead­er­ship po­s­i­tions — either speak­er or ma­jor­ity lead­er — in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple sources close to the con­gress­man.

“He sounds like he’s ready to run in the fall,” said a Re­pub­lic­an source who has been speak­ing with Hensarling for months about an in­tern­al cam­paign.

Con­ser­vat­ives have long been pres­sur­ing Hensarling to seek a lead­er­ship spot in Novem­ber, when Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials will hold their reg­u­larly sched­uled elec­tions for po­s­i­tions in the next Con­gress. Those mem­bers pounced when Eric Can­tor un­ex­pec­tedly lost his primary last week, plead­ing with Hensarling to run for ma­jor­ity lead­er right then and there. He said he would “pray­er­fully” con­sider do­ing so, but friends of the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices chair­man knew he wouldn’t bite.

In truth, Hensarling al­lies ex­plain, he had been tak­ing ser­i­ously the en­cour­age­ment to run in Novem­ber. But he needed to go through an ex­haust­ive pro­cess — meet­ing with ad­visers and col­leagues to dis­cuss strategy, and more im­port­ant, dis­cuss­ing the de­cision with his fam­ily. That pro­cess, Hensarling al­ways thought, would not need to com­mence un­til late sum­mer or early fall.

But then Can­tor lost. And that, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al close friends, forced Hensarling last week to con­front a host of ques­tions, both per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al, that he oth­er­wise would not have dealt with un­til Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber. Spe­cific­ally, Hensarling has long wor­ried how a top lead­er­ship job would force him to spend more time on the fun­drais­ing cir­cuit and less time with his wife and two young chil­dren.

After close con­sulta­tion with his fam­ily and friends last week, Hensarling sur­prised those close to him by sug­gest­ing that his obstacles — which they thought were pro­hib­it­ive to his seek­ing a top lead­er­ship post — were over­come in the de­lib­er­a­tion pro­cess.

“Jeb knew there would be a lot of stoplights in front of him in con­sid­er­ing a lead­er­ship run,” said a friend of Hensarling’s who spoke ex­tens­ively with him last week. “But a lot of those lights he thought would be red, let’s just say they are now blink­ing yel­low at worst — and prob­ably green.”

Hensarling re­leased a state­ment last week an­noun­cing that he would not chal­lenge Mc­Carthy for ma­jor­ity lead­er, say­ing it was “not the right of­fice at the right time for me and my fam­ily.” He re­fused to an­swer ques­tions about wheth­er that meant he was rul­ing out a run this fall.

“My state­ment this morn­ing speaks for it­self,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al later that day.

But it did noth­ing of the sort. And in fact, people close to him star­ted read­ing between the lines of that state­ment — “not the right of­fice at the right time” — and wondered if Hensarling was up to something. Maybe he didn’t want to chal­lenge Mc­Carthy for lead­er this week, they whispered, be­cause his grand plan was to chal­lenge Speak­er John Boehner in Novem­ber.

“I think he’s go­ing to run in Novem­ber,” a House Re­pub­lic­an and long­time Hensarling ally said this week. “And if he runs, he runs for the top spot.”

Wheth­er Hensarling seeks any lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion re­mains to be seen. And it’s far from cer­tain that Boehner can be de­feated in the fall — if he even de­cides to run again.

But Hensarling’s ap­par­ent in­terest, com­bined with an empty sum­mer­time sched­ule con­du­cive to in­tern­al cam­paign­ing, had plenty of mem­bers buzz­ing about the next round of lead­er­ship elec­tions be­fore Thursday’s con­tests were even com­plete.

Still, the res­ults of Thursday’s spe­cial elec­tion — Mc­Carthy’s as­cen­sion to ma­jor­ity lead­er and Rep. Steve Scal­ise’s vic­tory in the whip’s race — demon­strate the im­port­ance of tim­ing and or­gan­iz­a­tion. Both Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise were pre­pared to seek a pro­mo­tion, and neither wasted a mo­ment be­fore jump­ing at the op­por­tun­ity in front of them.

That les­son was not lost on GOP law­makers. In­deed, some Re­pub­lic­ans, even those who were un­happy with Thursday’s res­ults, ex­pressed skep­ti­cism that a shake-up could come later this year.

“This was our best shot to change lead­er­ship — not Novem­ber,” said Rep. Justin Amash, who voted against Boehner in 2013 and whose closest friend in Con­gress, Rep. Raul Lab­rador, lost to Mc­Carthy on Thursday.

For “move­ment” con­ser­vat­ives — those aligned with the tea party and grass­roots ad­vocacy groups — the search for a can­did­ate to vault in­to the top tier of House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship al­ways nar­rows to two law­makers: Hensarling and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Both are con­sidered ideo­lo­gic­ally pure. Both are former chair­men of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee. And both are re­spec­ted throughout the House GOP.

But Hensarling has two dis­tinct ad­vant­ages: He is South­ern, adding geo­graph­ic­al di­versity to a lead­er­ship team that lacked it un­til Scal­ise’s win Thursday; and he is con­sidered more elect­able than Jordan in a con­fer­ence-wide vote.

Of course, there’s an­oth­er crit­ic­al dif­fer­ence: Hensarling is am­bi­tious and has already served as the No. 4 in Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship, while Jordan is con­tent as a rank-and-file mem­ber and has been em­phat­ic that a lead­er­ship job “isn’t me.”

Hensarling is the tar­get, and con­ser­vat­ives have played the long game in lur­ing him to­ward a lead­er­ship battle. They have ap­plied soft yet steady pres­sure, let­ting the Tex­an know that he’s got plenty of time to de­cide, but that he’s their No. 1 choice. The re­cruit­ers are so ser­i­ous that they reg­u­larly reach out to Hensarling’s ment­or, former Sen. Phil Gramm, hop­ing he can talk Hensarling in­to a lead­er­ship bid.

“I tell them all the time: He doesn’t want it,” Gramm said of his com­mu­nic­a­tion with the con­ser­vat­ive re­cruit­ers over the past sev­er­al months. “And they say, ‘We know. That’s why we want him.”

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