Tea Partiers Are Unsatisfied With a Wide Range of House Leadership Options

Kevin McCarthy backer Devin Nunes calls complainers “exotic members” who “obviously aren’t conservative.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) confers with U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izad and Sarah Mimms
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Elahe Izad Sarah Mimms
June 12, 2014, 10:12 a.m.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor fell to shock­ing de­feat at the hands of a man who labeled him as pro-am­nesty. This should be the per­fect op­por­tun­ity for the most vo­cal and hard-line op­pon­ents of im­mig­ra­tion re­form — their sup­port­ers helped topple one of the most power­ful men in Wash­ing­ton.

Mem­bers of the con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee are run­ning for both ma­jor­ity lead­er and to re­place Rep. Kev­in Mc­Carthy as ma­jor­ity whip, should he win the top con­test.

But still, some tea parti­ers aren’t happy.

Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Steve King and Michele Bach­mann, both hard-liners on im­mig­ra­tion, are eye­ing the pos­sible duel elec­tions with an air of de­pres­sion, ar­guing that none of the can­did­ates for either po­s­i­tion will feel any dif­fer­ently about im­mig­ra­tion than his pre­de­cessors.

And the only solu­tion they’ve got to of­fer: Delay the June 19 lead­er­ship elec­tion “so that we can ac­tu­ally field a can­did­ate who’s not for am­nesty. That was the res­ult of the elec­tion in Eric Can­tor’s dis­trict,” Bach­mann said. “It would be wrong for us to have an elec­tion for lead­er­ship for the Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence without even one can­did­ate who stands for se­cur­ing our bor­ders and re­ject­ing am­nesty.”

For these law­makers, the cur­rent can­did­ates to be the next ma­jor­ity lead­er have un­sat­is­fact­ory stances. Mc­Carthy has come out in fa­vor of al­low­ing the the un­doc­u­mented to ap­ply for leg­al­iz­a­tion. House Rules Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, beat a primary chal­lenger in March who had at­tacked him for sup­port­ing a guest-work­er pro­gram. (Ses­sions, for his part, has em­phas­ized that his po­s­i­tion on im­mig­ra­tion is “bor­der se­cur­ity, bor­der se­cur­ity, bor­der se­cur­ity.”)

Two of the can­did­ates for ma­jor­ity whip — Rep. Marlin Stutz­man, R-Ind., and Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill. — have sup­por­ted as­pects of im­mig­ra­tion re­form that the far right has termed “am­nesty” as well. Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Steve Scal­ise, R-La., has strongly op­posed their ef­forts.

But even with Scal­ise at the helm of the RSC, a frus­trated Rep. Dev­in Nunes, R-Cal­if., said the tea party is not sat­is­fied. “They don’t like them either,” Nunes said of Roskam and Stutz­man. “They’re not happy with Scal­ise, they’re not happy with Roskam, they’re not happy with Mc­Carthy, they’re not happy with Can­tor, they’re not happy with [House Speak­er John] Boehner, they’re not happy with Ses­sions — so I don’t know who their can­did­ates are.”

Nunes, it should be noted, is a ma­jor sup­port­er and ally of Mc­Carthy.

King and Bach­mann are in the minor­ity in their op­pos­i­tion to all of the can­did­ates and Bach­mann, to be fair, is re­tir­ing at the end of the year. Mc­Carthy and Ses­sions have a “big head start” in their cam­paigns for next ma­jor­ity lead­er that will be dif­fi­cult for oth­ers to over­come. “We don’t have the lineup of con­ser­vat­ive rule-of-law can­did­ates in place, so we’re ask­ing for a delay in this vote so that there’s time for the con­fer­ence to come to its senses,” King said.

The bid to delay a vote is frus­trat­ing not only rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­ans, but many con­ser­vat­ives as well. “They don’t have can­did­ates,” Nunes told re­port­ers. “They just come out here to you guys and com­plain and they blog and they Face­book, but when it’s time to ac­tu­ally raise money and go re­cruit can­did­ates and win elec­tions so that you can stop Obama, which is what they say they want to do, they don’t have a cap­ab­il­ity of do­ing it.”

“They’re ob­vi­ously not con­ser­vat­ive,” Nunes ad­ded, call­ing his col­leagues on the far-right “exot­ic mem­bers.”

King and Bach­mann’s read­ing of Can­tor’s race as a ref­er­en­dum on im­mig­ra­tion and es­tab­lish­ment con­ser­vat­ism, Nunes says, is wrong.

Im­mig­ra­tion re­form did be­come a flash point in Can­tor’s race. His op­pon­ent, Dave Brat, fo­cused on the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s sup­port for a path­way to cit­izen­ship for chil­dren brought here il­leg­ally. Na­tion­al tea-party groups largely sat the race out and spent al­most no money in the dis­trict, but Brat had the back­ing — and plat­form — of people like pop­u­lar con­ser­vat­ive ra­dio show host Laura In­gra­ham. In real­ity, there were many con­trib­ut­ing factors to Can­tor’s loss, in­clud­ing con­stitu­ent ser­vices, time spent in his dis­trict, bad polling, and the re­drawn dis­trict it­self.

King wants Rep. Jim Jordan, a mem­ber of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee who has re­peatedly said he will not run for lead­er­ship, to re­con­sider a bid. Bach­mann is dis­ap­poin­ted Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, de­cided to bow out. When asked how many oth­er law­makers are like­wise on the prowl with them for someone who is “anti-am­nesty,” King turned to a gaggle of re­port­ers and said, “You’re go­ing to send the mes­sage out to them and let’s just see.”

So there you have it. Are you a mem­ber of the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives whose po­s­i­tion on im­mig­ra­tion lines up with King and Bach­mann? Then you may want to give them a call, be­cause they’re look­ing to build a co­ali­tion that can ac­tu­ally sway an elec­tion. And so far, it’s just the two of them.

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