As Flores Wins RSC Race, Tension Simmers Between Leaders and Conservatives

Result fuels dissension, as Mulvaney’s supporters accuse leadership of meddling in contest.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) calls on the Senate pass the budget that cleared the House last April during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol October 4, 2011 in Washington, DC. Noting that the Senate has not passed a budget in 888 days, Flores and fellow House GOP freshmen put forward their 'Operation Turnaround,' a slate of 12 House-passed bills they say will spur job growth, reduce regulation, shrink the national debt and balance the budget. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Nov. 18, 2014, 7:59 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans emerged from their land­slide elec­tion preach­ing unity and un­an­im­ously reelec­ted their top lead­ers last week, but a hotly con­tested race on Tues­day ex­posed per­sist­ing fis­sures in the con­fer­ence between du­el­ing con­ser­vat­ive camps.

Rep. Bill Flores was elec­ted the next chair­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, prom­ising a more col­lab­or­at­ive re­la­tion­ship with lead­er­ship but an­ger­ing hard-line con­ser­vat­ives who see the group as the right­ward rud­der of the con­fer­ence, and want it to be more com­bat­ive to that end.

RSC mem­bers elec­ted Flores over Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, who had im­plied Flores would be a shill for lead­er­ship and prom­ised that un­der his own stew­ard­ship, the group could cause prob­lems for Speak­er John Boehner and his team. Flores won on an 84-57 vote on the second bal­lot. The first bal­lot had Flores one vote shy of an out­right vic­tory, with 71 votes to Mul­vaney’s 55 and Louie Gohmert’s 16.

Flores said the de­cid­ing factor was his earn­est and am­ic­able way of dis­agree­ing with lead­er­ship, a con­trast with the brash Mul­vaney, who has at times vo­cally con­tra­dicted House GOP lead­ers, in­clud­ing de­clin­ing to vote for Boehner at the out­set of the 113th Con­gress.

“I haven’t done things pub­licly to hurt con­ser­vat­ives. I have dis­agree­ments with lead­er­ship, I have dis­agree­ments with the speak­er, but I have those one-on-one,” Flores said, after the elec­tion. “I don’t go to the me­dia to do it, I don’t go to the House floor to do it.”

Flores’s ap­proach to deal­ing with lead­er­ship could have a sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on how ag­gress­ively con­ser­vat­ives push Boehner to con­front the White House on a host of fronts, in­clud­ing next year’s ex­pec­ted battle over rais­ing the debt ceil­ing and the on­go­ing de­bate over im­mig­ra­tion policy. (Flores per­son­ally sup­ports the idea of passing com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form but has said he would not push his own views on the RSC.)

Mul­vaney said after Tues­day’s vote that he was “dis­ap­poin­ted” by his loss. “I am now in the un­com­fort­able po­s­i­tion of hav­ing to write about 80 thank-you notes to the 57 people who voted for me,” he quipped—re­fer­ring to the ap­par­ent in­ac­cur­acy of his whip count—be­fore con­grat­u­lat­ing Flores on his win.

Mem­bers of Mul­vaney’s camp took the news less jovi­ally. Rep. Raul Lab­rador, who un­suc­cess­fully chal­lenged Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy for the lead­er po­s­i­tion earli­er this year, said lead­er­ship meddled in the elec­tion on Flores’s be­half.

“It’s al­ways lead­er­ship, when lead­er­ship gets in­volved in elec­tions,” he said, when asked what was the de­cid­ing factor in the race. “Twist­ing arms.”

When asked wheth­er he and oth­ers would re­nounce their mem­ber­ship in the group, Lab­rador said only, “We’ll see.”

Flores, however, said Lab­rador is ly­ing about lead­er­ship’s in­flu­ence in the race. “That’s not true; that’s a false state­ment,” Flores said. “If they were do­ing it for me I would know about it, but I didn’t know any­thing about it.”

Some RSC mem­bers, in­clud­ing Mul­vaney and his top whip, former RSC Chair­man Jim Jordan, be­came mem­bers of a splinter group called the House Liberty Caucus out of dis­sat­is­fac­tion with what they saw as the more mod­er­ate tack the RSC had taken.

The Liberty Caucus’s founder, Rep. Justin Amash, said after the RSC elec­tion that the res­ult is dis­heart­en­ing and that he does not have much faith in the group.

“I’m dis­ap­poin­ted,” he said. “Our mem­ber­ship has gone up be­cause people have been dis­sat­is­fied with the RSC over the past few years; and I wish Bill Flores all the best, but I’m not per­suaded that the RSC is go­ing to turn in­to the or­gan­iz­a­tion that con­ser­vat­ives ex­pect it to be.”

Flores said he re­cog­nizes that there are hurt feel­ings, but he pre­dicted that things will smooth over in a few days once mem­bers get a chance to see what kind of a lead­er he can be. But he ad­ded that he does not see the RSC’s mis­sion as solely to push lead­er­ship to the right, but rather to ad­voc­ate for spe­cif­ic con­ser­vat­ive policies.

“People are either com­mit­ted to the RSC or they’re not,” he said. “If they’re com­mit­ted to the mis­sion state­ment of the RSC, they’re go­ing to be happy with me as their chair. If they’re com­mit­ted to an­oth­er vis­ion, then they may not be happy with me.”

The res­ult is re­min­is­cent of the last RSC elec­tion, when Rep. Tom Graves was up­set by Rep. Steve Scal­ise. A sim­il­ar dy­nam­ic played out then, with Graves win­ning the en­dorse­ment of move­ment con­ser­vat­ives and Scal­ise, now the ma­jor­ity whip, prom­ising a more col­lab­or­at­ive tone with lead­ers.

But House Re­pub­lic­ans’ chief deputy whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry, said fol­low­ing the vote that Mul­vaney is still an im­port­ant voice in the GOP Con­fer­ence.

“Re­gard­less of what happened with the vote, Mick will be con­sul­ted with. He’s still a force in the con­fer­ence,” McHenry said.

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