RSC Fires Executive Director for Leaking ‘Member-Level’ Talks to Outside Groups

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 11: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (C) introduces H.R. 4262, the 'CAP the DEBT Act,' during a news conference with fellow House Republicans (L-R) Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) at the U.S. Capitol December 11, 2009 in Washington, DC. The bill looks to repeal the Gephardt Rule and thereby require a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate to authorize any increase in the U.S. national debt ceiling. Scalise and others threatened to vote against a war funding bill next week if it included a provision to raise the debt ceiling. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
Dec. 11, 2013, 12:37 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Steve Scal­ise has fired the group’s long­time ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Paul Tell­er, mul­tiple sources told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

The reas­on for the dis­missal, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­i­ar with the situ­ation, is that Tell­er al­legedly shared sens­it­ive con­ver­sa­tions between RSC mem­bers with out­side ad­vocacy groups, some of whom hold policy po­s­i­tions counter to the RSC.

“No staffer is above a mem­ber,” said one seni­or Re­pub­lic­an aide fa­mil­i­ar with the situ­ation. “Paul was di­vul­ging private, mem­ber-level con­ver­sa­tions and act­ively work­ing against RSC strategies sup­por­ted by House con­ser­vat­ives.”

Tell­er could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

The move comes as Scal­ise, who has not stated wheth­er he will sup­port the budget com­prom­ised brokered by Rep. Paul Ry­an, is at­tempt­ing to take the tem­per­at­ure of his mem­bers on the agree­ment.

Scal­ise was meet­ing in­di­vidu­ally with top con­ser­vat­ive law­makers, in­clud­ing former RSC Chair­man Jim Jordan, be­fore Wed­nes­day’s RSC gath­er­ing. Jordan, who is close to Tell­er, ini­tially said the meet­ing was about Ry­an’s budget agree­ment. But it be­came clear af­ter­ward that oth­er things, in­clud­ing Tell­er’s dis­missal, were dis­cussed.

“Paul’s a good man, and he’s been help­ful to the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment,” Jordan said. “But the chair­man is the chair­man. And I sup­port the chair­man’s de­cision.”

On his way in­to the RSC meet­ing, Scal­ise em­phas­ized that he re­mained un­de­cided on Ry­an’s deal. “We’re go­ing to talk about that in here,” he said.

Tell­er, a staunch con­ser­vat­ive with long-stand­ing ties to out­side groups op­pos­ing the deal, is ac­cused of work­ing be­hind the scenes to de­rail the budget agree­ment.

It’s not the first time he’s played both sides, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans. In fact, they say Tell­er’s fir­ing was a long time com­ing.

“This wasn’t ideo­lo­gic­al. He leaked against RSC mem­bers all the time,” said an­oth­er seni­or GOP aide. “He worked against bills sponsored by mem­bers without the chair­man know­ing.”

At the same time, the lead­ers of some con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups rushed to Tell­er’s de­fense after news broke of his fir­ing. “Paul Tell­er is an Amer­ic­an hero,” tweeted Andy Roth, vice pres­id­ent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs at the Club for Growth.

The dis­missal was an­nounced to mem­bers at Wed­nes­day’s closed-door meet­ing. Shortly after the caucus gathered around lunch­time, dozens of staffers were asked to leave the room, an un­usu­al move that typ­ic­ally sig­nals Scal­ise’s de­sire to dis­cuss a sens­it­ive mat­ter with RSC mem­bers only.

Scal­ise in­formed mem­bers at the meet­ing that he had asked for Tell­er’s resig­na­tion, and that Tell­er ac­cep­ted. But the chair­man did not elab­or­ate on why the de­cision was made. “If you want to dis­cuss the de­tails, call my of­fice,” Scal­ise said, ac­cord­ing to mem­bers present.

The de­cision was ap­par­ently made uni­lat­er­ally by Scal­ise. Rep. Cyn­thia Lum­mis of Wyom­ing, a mem­ber of the RSC steer­ing com­mit­tee, said she was sur­prised by the news of Tell­er’s fir­ing. “I didn’t find out about it un­til I walked in the room,” she said.

Oth­er RSC mem­bers were caught off guard as well. Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan­sas, did not at­tend the meet­ing but was “very dis­ap­poin­ted” at the news.

“Paul’s one of the most ef­fect­ive staffers on the Hill,” Huel­skamp said. “He helps our cause. And fir­ing him does not.”

Tell­er joined the RSC in 2001 as le­gis­lat­ive dir­ect­or and quickly as­sumed the role of ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, a po­s­i­tion he’s held for more than 10 years. He has been in the crosshairs be­fore. When Scal­ise won an up­set vic­tory to be­come RSC chair­man be­fore the 113th Con­gress, House lead­er­ship of­fi­cials urged him to dis­miss Tell­er. But RSC mem­bers, many of them hav­ing known Tell­er for years, suc­cess­fully lob­bied for him to stay on.

Tell­er’s repu­ta­tion is rooted in his grass­roots ap­proach to polit­ics, which some­times prizes con­flict over com­prom­ise. Un­der his dir­ec­tion, the RSC has wit­nessed sev­er­al in­tense ideo­lo­gic­al battles—both in­tern­al and ex­tern­al—that have ce­men­ted his status on Cap­it­ol Hill as a con­ser­vat­ive agit­at­or. When asked about his group’s hard­ball tac­tics earli­er this year, Tell­er told Na­tion­al Journ­al: “We’re not there to smile and nod.”

There is no im­me­di­ate word on who will re­place Tell­er as ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, a pivotal po­s­i­tion that helps or­gan­ize weekly meet­ings and policy pa­pers for the caucus of more than 170 House Re­pub­lic­ans.

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