GOP Leaders Not Eager to See McMullin Back on the Hill

The former aide confirmed details of a private leadership meeting. Now he might return to Congress—as a member.

Evan McMullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
May 19, 2017, 1:30 p.m.

Or­din­ar­ily, the pro­spect of serving along­side one’s former staffer would eli­cit pride from a mem­ber of Con­gress, but the po­ten­tial con­gres­sion­al run of GOP staffer-turned-in­de­pend­ent pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Evan McMul­lin has been re­ceived un­enthu­si­ast­ic­ally by his former bosses, to say the least.

McMul­lin has been a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in Re­pub­lic­an polit­ics since he de­cided to field a quix­ot­ic chal­lenge against Don­ald Trump. But he took a turn to­wards pari­ah-dom un­der the Cap­it­ol Dome after he was quoted Wed­nes­day in The Wash­ing­ton Post con­firm­ing the con­tents of an in­ner-circle Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship meet­ing he at­ten­ded when he was policy dir­ect­or for the House GOP Con­fer­ence.

“I don’t think I’m ready to com­ment on that one,” said McMul­lin’s former boss, Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers.

“Who?” answered Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry with a glare, when asked about the pro­spect that McMul­lin could join his cham­ber.

“I think he’d have a hard time win­ning,” Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy said. “He didn’t do well in his last race there. … Is he from that dis­trict?”

McMul­lin, who won 21 per­cent of the pres­id­en­tial vote in Utah, is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for the Utah seat that Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz has said he will va­cate at the end of the month, and he has also mused about chal­len­ging Sen. Or­rin Hatch. McMul­lin was born in Utah but raised in Wash­ing­ton state, and he has lived around the Belt­way for the last sev­er­al years.

It is clear, however, that his former bosses and col­leagues would just as soon nev­er see him again.

It is one thing, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent and former House GOP staffers, that he es­sen­tially left the party to run against its chosen pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate. But with the Post art­icle, they say he broke the car­din­al rule of be­ing a Hill staffer: Thou shalt not dis­cuss the private meet­ings of your cur­rent or former boss.

“The fact he was will­ing to go on re­cord with The Wash­ing­ton Post to con­firm de­tails of a private mem­ber meet­ing says a lot about his char­ac­ter and in­teg­rity,” said one House GOP mem­ber. “If he were some­how to be elec­ted to Con­gress, he’d have a very hard time gain­ing the trust or re­spect of the vast ma­jor­ity of our con­fer­ence.”

That per­ceived sin is com­poun­ded by the fact that the meet­ing McMul­lin dis­cussed with the Post wasn’t just any meet­ing. It was the so-called daily man­age­ment meet­ing, held in Speak­er Paul Ry­an’s in­ner sanc­tum and privy only to the top four GOP lead­ers and their most trus­ted aides.

In the art­icle, which was based on a leaked re­cord­ing of a meet­ing from June 15, 2016, McMul­lin con­firmed that he was in the meet­ing, and that Mc­Carthy said Trump was be­ing paid by Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin and Ry­an wor­ried that the in­form­a­tion would leak.

“What’s said in the fam­ily stays in the fam­ily,” Ry­an said, ac­cord­ing to the tran­script.

Mc­Carthy and Ry­an have since said the Mc­Carthy com­ment was a joke.

Some mem­bers and aides think McMul­lin is the source of the leak of the re­cord­ing, al­though there is no proof of that.

“I’m work­ing that; I’m fig­ur­ing that out,” Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers said, when asked wheth­er she thinks he re­cor­ded the meet­ing.

Kurt Bar­della, a former House GOP staffer, said staff are ex­pec­ted to keep con­ver­sa­tions they’ve wit­nessed private, but it comes down to con­text and judg­ment if they choose not to.

“There is an ex­pect­a­tion that whatever you see, hear, and are privy to while work­ing for your boss is kept private,” Bar­della said. “I think at the end of the day, you have to weigh the value of what you might be re­veal­ing to the pub­lic at large against your com­mit­ment and loy­alty to your former boss and col­leagues.”

McMul­lin, who did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment for this art­icle, ap­pears to have made the cal­cu­la­tion that speak­ing out against Trump and those who sup­port him is more im­port­ant than toe­ing the party line or con­form­ing with the de­cor­um of his former job. He ref­er­enced the same meet­ing in a Feb­ru­ary op-ed for The New York Times, not­ing that GOP lead­ers privately think the worst of Trump but pub­licly side with him in hopes they can ad­vance their policy goals.

That jaded view of his former col­leagues has some think­ing that McMul­lin would not run for Con­gress as a Re­pub­lic­an. He in­dic­ated dur­ing a tap­ing of the Slate Polit­ic­al Gab­fest earli­er this month that he would not run as a Demo­crat.

A source close to McMul­lin said he is still con­sid­er­ing run­ning, and since Utah Gov. Gary Her­bert has said he will call for a spe­cial elec­tion with­in a few months of Chaf­fetz step­ping down, McMul­lin will as­sess the land­scape and de­cide wheth­er and how to run.

“He’s been stead­fastly a con­ser­vat­ive, and I think that’s where he’ll start,” the source said. “He will take a look at the most vi­able path and make a de­cision based on those facts.”

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