Mulvaney Angling to Lead House Conservatives in Next Congress

The South Carolina lawmaker will be a front-runner for chairman of the Republican Study Committee in what could be a crowded field of candidates.

WASHINGTON - MAY 11: U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) (3rd L) speaks as (L-R) House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) listen during a news conference May 11, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Cantor held a news conference to introduce the next phase of the You Cut program. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
March 27, 2014, 4:20 p.m.

Rep. Mick Mul­vaney of South Car­o­lina will seek the chair­man­ship of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee in the 114th Con­gress, Na­tion­al Journ­al has learned, the first sig­ni­fic­ant meas­ure of in­tern­al cam­paign­ing amid a sea­son marked by quiet, cau­tious jost­ling for po­s­i­tions in the next ses­sion.

And, in a sep­ar­ate de­vel­op­ment with longer-last­ing rami­fic­a­tions for the 40-year-old con­ser­vat­ive caucus, the “founders” com­mit­tee — com­prised of all former RSC chair­men still serving in Con­gress — is con­tem­plat­ing sweep­ing changes to the sys­tem long used to elect the group’s lead­er.

Tra­di­tion­ally, all RSC hope­fuls in­ter­view with the founders, after which the group of­fers a col­lect­ive en­dorse­ment of one can­did­ate. If a rival ob­jects, they can chal­lenge the en­dorse­ment by col­lect­ing sig­na­tures from 25 per­cent of RSC’s mem­ber­ship, for­cing a run­off elec­tion. (This was done suc­cess­fully by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas in 2006, and by cur­rent Chair­man Steve Scal­ise of Louisi­ana in 2012.)

Mul­vaney, a sopho­more law­maker known for his sharp tongue and quick wit, has long been viewed as a fa­vor­ite to suc­ceed Scal­ise — partly be­cause of his re­la­tion­ship with some of the founders, in­clud­ing Hensarling and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Mul­vaney’s path to the chair­man­ship could be com­plic­ated, however, if the group’s bylaws are changed.

Ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al sources with dir­ect know­ledge of the de­lib­er­a­tions, the founders are con­sid­er­ing a new sys­tem un­der which they would vet can­did­ates and re­com­mend cer­tain people to be in­cluded in a caucus-wide vote — without en­dors­ing any­one. Noth­ing has been fi­nal­ized, sources cau­tioned, but the goal would be to avoid hav­ing the group’s lead­ers tak­ing sides in di­vis­ive run­off elec­tions.

In an in­ter­view, Mul­vaney paid little mind to the po­ten­tial rule changes, fo­cus­ing in­stead on the plans he’s mak­ing to lead the caucus of more than 175 mem­bers. Mul­vaney ac­know­ledged that pre­lim­in­ary con­ver­sa­tions are be­ing had with col­leagues about tim­ing and strategy, though he cau­tioned that it’s pre­ma­ture to be­gin cam­paign­ing in earn­est.

“It’s too early to start or­gan­iz­ing. It’s just not ap­pro­pri­ate to start do­ing that yet,” Mul­vaney said. “But all the guys know.”

By “all the guys,” Mul­vaney means his clique of House con­ser­vat­ives — mem­bers like Jordan, Rep. Raul Lab­rador of Idaho, and fel­low South Car­olini­an Trey Gowdy. Be­cause Mul­vaney has es­tab­lished tight per­son­al bonds with col­leagues span­ning the con­ser­vat­ive spec­trum, from former RSC chair­men to vet­er­an steer­ing-com­mit­tee mem­bers to up­start liber­tari­ans, his base of sup­port is ex­pec­ted to be deep and di­verse.

“I think he’d be a really good RSC chair­man,” said Lab­rador, one of Mul­vaney’s closest friends — and, not­ably, someone also men­tioned fre­quently as a po­ten­tial Scal­ise suc­cessor.

Lab­rador de­clined to com­ment on wheth­er Mul­vaney’s can­did­acy would de­ter him from pur­su­ing the RSC job, though those close to Lab­rador have said it’s un­likely he would com­pete with his friend for the same gig. At the same time, friend­ship seem­ingly won’t af­fect the cal­cu­la­tions of Rep. Marlin Stutz­man. The In­di­ana law­maker, who nearly ran in 2012, called Mul­vaney a “buddy” — but soun­ded pre­pared to chal­lenge him any­way.

“I’m strongly lean­ing to­ward it,” Stutz­man said of the RSC race. “I’ve been reach­ing out to folks to see what they want out of RSC lead­er­ship.”

Stutz­man, who said his friend Mul­vaney would make “a great RSC chair,” noted that he won’t make his own de­cision un­til sum­mer­time. And, if he does run against Mul­vaney, “I think it’s healthy to have com­pet­i­tion,” Stutz­man said with a smile.

There are, mean­while, oth­er law­makers rumored to be in­ter­ested in the po­s­i­tion. One is Rep. Tom Graves of Geor­gia, who was en­dorsed in 2012 by the RSC’s coun­cil of former chair­men only to later lose a run­off to Scal­ise. Graves be­came something of a con­ser­vat­ive mar­tyr after that 2012 race, which saw GOP lead­er­ship of­fi­cials whip votes on be­half of Scal­ise, whom they saw as a more con­flict-averse choice to lead the caucus.

Graves, then, re­mains an in­triguing op­tion for some con­ser­vat­ives. Un­for­tu­nately for them, Graves has “no in­terest” in run­ning an­oth­er RSC race, he said Wed­nes­day. “No in­terest what­so­ever,” he ad­ded.

An­oth­er pro­spect­ive can­did­ate is Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, who, per­haps by nature of his close friend­ship with Scal­ise, is seen as someone who could con­tin­ue the cur­rent chair­man’s strategy of “put­ting points on the board” without pick­ing fights with GOP lead­er­ship.

Flores, though, said he hasn’t giv­en much thought to the race. And while he ac­know­ledged that he could be in­ter­ested — es­pe­cially de­pend­ing on the oth­er can­did­ates — Flores said he wouldn’t start cam­paign­ing un­til Au­gust any­way. “Can­didly, I think it’s pre­ma­ture to be jock­ey­ing for dif­fer­ent po­s­i­tions,” he said.

Oth­er names, such as Rep. Ren­ee Ellmers of North Car­o­lina, are also tossed around. It’s still early, and oth­er can­did­ates could emerge. But at this point, even with the RSC elec­tion not slated un­til after the Novem­ber midterms, the con­test already seems to be nar­row­ing to two can­did­ates: Mul­vaney and Stutz­man.

And there isn’t a clear fa­vor­ite.

“It would be a whale of a race,” one seni­or Re­pub­lic­an ob­served.

Graves, a friend of both Stutz­man and Mul­vaney, said most con­ser­vat­ives would be happy with either one head­ing the RSC. “They’re both qual­ity guys, and they could both be great lead­ers.”

They would cer­tainly present a con­trast in style. Stutz­man is soft-spoken and rarely bom­bast­ic, where­as Mul­vaney is known to wear his emo­tions on his suit sleeve. Thursday morn­ing, after House GOP lead­er­ship sur­prised mem­bers by passing a con­tro­ver­sial bill by voice vote, Mul­vaney ex­claimed to mul­tiple re­port­ers: “Bull­shit!”

In­deed, Mul­vaney’s pas­sion — and his pen­chant for con­front­a­tion — could prove risky in the RSC race. He was one of 12 Re­pub­lic­ans who re­fused to vote for Boehner’s reelec­tion as speak­er in 2012 — a fact that some Boehner loy­al­ists, even with­in the RSC, nev­er will for­get. At the same time, Mul­vaney was cel­eb­rated in the con­fer­ence as per­haps the most vo­cal crit­ic of some con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups — Her­it­age Ac­tion chief among them — that were tak­ing “in­con­sist­ent” po­s­i­tions that splintered con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and dis­rup­ted con­ser­vat­ive policy goals.

Mul­vaney said these spats with con­ser­vat­ive groups have been healthy for the move­ment, and re­jec­ted spec­u­la­tion that he nur­tures a per­son­al rivalry with Her­it­age Ac­tion CEO Mi­chael Need­ham. “I ac­tu­ally like Mike Need­ham,” Mul­vaney said. “I go to Mike Need­ham’s house and drink beer. His wife beat me in Con­nect Four. So no, that re­la­tion­ship is very close.”

Still, it’s evid­ent the South Car­olini­an prides him­self on be­ing an in­de­pend­ent voice — someone cap­able of clash­ing with House lead­er­ship one day and tea-party groups the next. Mul­vaney won’t let him­self be defined by out­side forces — and that’s ex­actly the pitch he’s plan­ning to make to his col­leagues.

“It’s go­ing to be the RSC that defines what ‘con­ser­vat­ive’ means in this town,” Mul­vaney said. “Nobody else.”

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