Raul Labrador Plays Nice in Quest for Eric Cantor’s Job

Labrador is considered a long-shot to defeat McCarthy in Thursday’s special election for next House majority leader.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) talks to reporters after the House passed the STEM Jobs Act November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. The act would allow foreign students who graduated from U.S. colleges and universities with degrees in science and technology to obtain green cards to become permanent legal residents. President Barack Obama said he would not sign the bill unless it was part of larger and more comprehensive immigration reform legislation. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Add to Briefcase
Tim Alberta
June 16, 2014, 5:34 p.m.

Rep. Raul Lab­rador, a sopho­more Re­pub­lic­an from Idaho, has dis­tin­guished him­self as an out­spoken con­ser­vat­ive fond of cri­ti­ciz­ing his party’s lead­er­ship for be­ing, among oth­er things, “afraid.” But now that he is run­ning for House ma­jor­ity lead­er, Lab­rador’s tone is de­cidedly more ami­able; his em­phas­is is on unit­ing the GOP around com­mon prin­ciples and mak­ing sure every mem­ber’s voice is heard. The spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Eric Can­tor as ma­jor­ity lead­er will be held Thursday, and Lab­rador is con­sidered a long-shot to de­feat Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy.

Lab­rador spoke Monday with Na­tion­al Journ­al about the in­tern­al cam­paign, Re­pub­lic­an in­fight­ing, and his path to vic­tory. Ed­ited ex­cerpts fol­low.

What is your re­la­tion­ship like with Kev­in Mc­Carthy?

It’s ac­tu­ally really good. We had a peri­od where we had a rough patch, and we ac­tu­ally went out and had dessert to­geth­er and we talked, and I think it’s been really good since then.

What was the source of that rough patch?

You know, it’s between us.

How long ago was it?

It’s been a while, but I think — there’s no per­son­al an­im­us between us.

Do you think he de­serves a pro­mo­tion to ma­jor­ity lead­er, based on his per­form­ance as ma­jor­ity whip?

I don’t think any­body in this con­fer­ence de­serves any­thing. I think you have to earn it. Now, it’s up to the mem­bers of the House to de­cide if he has earned it.

Have you spoken with Mc­Carthy since you de­clared your can­did­acy on Fri­day?

Ab­so­lutely. I’ve spoken to the three top lead­ers.

And how would you de­scribe your com­mu­nic­a­tion with them?

Very pos­it­ive. It’s been noth­ing but gra­cious — from me and from them.

We’ve talked be­fore about how the Re­pub­lic­an Party is frac­tured. Do you think this in­tern­al cam­paign will only fur­ther ex­acer­bate that di­vide?

I don’t at all. Be­cause I think Kev­in has been noth­ing but a gen­tle­man to me, and I’m go­ing to be noth­ing but a gen­tle­man to him.

What are you telling your col­leagues to sell them on your can­did­acy?

There’s two things — in­tern­al and ex­tern­al. In­tern­ally we need to change the way we run the floor; we need to keep a pledge to our con­fer­ence “¦ that we’re go­ing to have bills out there for 72 hours [be­fore they’re voted on]. I think we need to let the com­mit­tees work their will; if some­body’s idea gets out of com­mit­tee, we need to hear those ideas on the House floor, even if they go down. There’s noth­ing wrong with bills not passing; it’s one of the things I loved most about be­ing in a state le­gis­lature. The most seni­or mem­ber has the same rights as the least seni­or mem­ber to have their ideas ac­tu­ally heard. And we don’t do that here. Eighty per­cent of the mem­bers of this House feel like they’re ir­rel­ev­ant. I want every mem­ber to feel like they con­trib­ute to the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. So that’s my in­tern­al mes­sage.

What about ex­tern­al?

The Amer­ic­an people no longer un­der­stand what Re­pub­lic­ans stand for. We need to have a vis­ion and pas­sion for our ideas; we need to let them know the four, five, six things we would do if we had a Sen­ate in Re­pub­lic­an hands. If we can’t do that, we’re not go­ing to win the Sen­ate. And if we don’t win the Sen­ate, we’re not go­ing to win the White House. And we have not been suc­cess­ful in driv­ing that mes­sage to the Amer­ic­an people — and I don’t think there’s any­body bet­ter than me to do that.

Is that mes­sage res­on­at­ing?

Ab­so­lutely. There are even people who tell me, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m vot­ing for Kev­in — but I want that, that’s ex­actly what I want, I agree with you 100 per­cent.”

Have you suc­cess­fully con­vinced any of those mem­bers to switch sides?


How many?

I can’t tell you, and I’m not go­ing to play the num­bers game.

Can you win this race?

I am con­fid­ent that I can win it, but I have to earn it.

How do you do that?

I just need to keep call­ing people — and stop talk­ing to you.

When you got in­to the race, a few of your friends told me this was more about you prov­ing a point — and stand­ing up for the House con­ser­vat­ives — than it was about win­ning. Is that true?

No, no. I ab­so­lutely be­lieve that we have a chance to win. The prob­lem is that every­one here waits un­til the time is right — un­til they know they can win, and they know vic­tory is as­sured. That’s not lead­er­ship. Lead­er­ship is stand­ing up against all odds and real­iz­ing that you’re go­ing to have a hard fight but you’re go­ing to do everything you can to get through it.

So what does your path to vic­tory look like?

I’m just call­ing the mem­bers and giv­ing them the same mes­sage I’ve giv­en you, and ex­plain­ing to them why I’m go­ing to make them feel like val­ued mem­bers of the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, no mat­ter how long they have been here and what their title is.

But what does your win­ning co­ali­tion look like? How do you piece to­geth­er enough votes to beat Kev­in Mc­Carthy?

What you do is talk to the con­ser­vat­ives who are dis­af­fected. But if you talk to in­di­vidu­al mem­bers from the North­east, they don’t feel like their voices are be­ing heard. You let people know that there are things that bring us to­geth­er; that there are reas­ons we are all Re­pub­lic­ans. There are spe­cif­ic things we all agree on, and those are the things we need to be work­ing on so we can ac­tu­ally get to­geth­er as a party.

What about your mem­ber­ship in the enorm­ous class of 2010? Do you lever­age that?

Ab­so­lutely. I think the class of 2010 wants to be rep­res­en­ted. We are the ma­jor­ity-makers, and we should be well-rep­res­en­ted in lead­er­ship.

Do you have an ace up your sleeve that we don’t know about?

I just have to reach out and ex­plain to mem­bers how it’s im­port­ant for us to send a mes­sage. And the greatest thing about this is that we can send a mes­sage — we’ve heard from every­body how they’re sick of the lead­er­ship. Well, take this op­por­tun­ity to ac­tu­ally send a mes­sage to lead­er­ship. You’re not un­seat­ing John Boehner, you’re ac­tu­ally not even get­ting rid of Kev­in Mc­Carthy — he re­mains the whip. But we need some­body new at the table with fresh ideas and a new out­look.

Eric Can­tor’s primary chal­lenger, Dav­id Brat, was also called a long-shot. His vic­tory put you in this po­s­i­tion. Do you take any com­fort in that?

I’m not go­ing to talk about Eric, but I was a long-shot in my race for Con­gress. I’ve been a long-shot my en­tire polit­ic­al ca­reer and in everything that I’ve done. So I feel pretty good about my chances.

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