Woodall Chosen as Interim RSC Chair; Group Tweaks Election Rules

The Georgia Republican will serve as caretaker of the conservative group until November, when new rules will be enforced in choosing the next chairman.

National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
July 9, 2014, 12:27 p.m.

Rep. Rob Woodall of Geor­gia was un­an­im­ously elec­ted Wed­nes­day to suc­ceed Rep. Steve Scal­ise as chair­man of the in­flu­en­tial Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, and will bridge the gap between Scal­ise’s de­par­ture this month and the elec­tion of a new chair­man in Novem­ber.

Also on Wed­nes­day, RSC mem­bers ap­proved a pro­pos­al that fun­da­ment­ally al­ters the pro­cess through which the group’s chair­man is chosen. No longer will the former RSC chair­men — known as the “Founders” — en­dorse a single can­did­ate to lead the group. In­stead, be­gin­ning this year, all in­ter­ested can­did­ates will in­ter­view with the founders, and they will re­com­mend sev­er­al qual­i­fied mem­bers to be in­cluded in a group-wide vote. This rule tweak, which should save the founders from mak­ing an un­com­fort­able and po­ten­tially di­vis­ive in­tern­al en­dorse­ment, has been in the works for some time.

Woodall, a second-term law­maker who has served as Scal­ise’s right-hand man at the RSC, will take over the chair­man­ship ef­fect­ive Ju­ly 16 — and has pledged not to seek a full term there­after.

“We’ve got a lot of big is­sues com­ing be­fore Con­gress between now and the end of the year,” Woodall said after Wed­nes­day’s RSC meet­ing. “It’s lousy that the RSC is los­ing lead­er­ship in the middle of the year when there’s so much left to be done. But this or­gan­iz­a­tion is about more than one per­son; it’s about con­ser­vat­ive ideas. And with our vote today, we’re go­ing to make sure that those con­ser­vat­ive ideas have a voice for the re­mainder of the 113th Con­gress.”

Scal­ise, who won June’s spe­cial elec­tion to be­come ma­jor­ity whip, as­sumes his lead­er­ship post Ju­ly 31. That’s when Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor will of­fi­cially step down, and cur­rent Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy will slide up to re­place him.

Woodall is uni­ver­sally well liked with­in the RSC, a group of more than 170 con­ser­vat­ive House Re­pub­lic­ans. As chair­man of the group’s budget and spend­ing task force, Woodall was a nat­ur­al choice to lead RSC through the fi­nal months of this Con­gress, which will be dom­in­ated by fisc­al fights over ap­pro­pri­ations, high­way fund­ing, and reau­thor­iz­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank.

The power­ful group of former RSC chair­men huddled sev­er­al weeks ago and settled on Woodall as the best can­did­ate to suc­ceed Scal­ise on an in­ter­im basis un­til a new chair­man is elec­ted to a full term in Novem­ber.

Woodall ac­cep­ted the tem­por­ary po­s­i­tion, con­tin­gent upon a pledge not to seek a sub­sequent term as RSC chair­man in the forth­com­ing 114th Con­gress.

“That’s the un­der­stand­ing,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former RSC chair­man, said at the time.

The de­term­in­a­tion not to give Woodall—or any­one else—a head start in the RSC race is con­sist­ent with the founders’ at­tempt to level the play­ing field with their new rules. Mem­bers of the group had in re­cent years grown in­creas­ingly up­set with the old elec­tion pro­cess, which they viewed as un­demo­crat­ic and po­ten­tially harm­ful to the unity of the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

Those fears were real­ized in 2012, when the founders en­dorsed Rep. Tom Graves of Geor­gia to suc­ceed Jordan as chair­man. Scal­ise, who had in­ter­viewed for the job, de­cided to ex­ploit a pro­vi­sion in the RSC bylaws that al­lowed him to force a run­off elec­tion by gath­er­ing sig­na­tures from 25 per­cent of the group’s mem­ber­ship. What en­sued was a heated head-to-head con­test that di­vided the group and likely served as the cata­lyst for today’s rule changes.

The con­fer­ence’s most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers ral­lied around Graves, whom they viewed as more ideo­lo­gic­ally pure; mean­while Speak­er John Boehner and his lead­er­ship team quietly or­gan­ized sup­port on be­half of Scal­ise, who ran on a plat­form of find­ing com­mon ground with lead­er­ship. Scal­ise ul­ti­mately pre­vailed—be­com­ing only the second mem­ber to ever suc­cess­fully chal­lenge an en­dorse­ment from the founders. (The first was Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, who in 2006 de­feated Kan­sas Rep. Todd Ti­ahrt.)

Thanks to the rule changes, which have been pushed for months by former RSC Chair­man Tom Price of Geor­gia, the founders are now free to en­dorse as many can­did­ates as they deem qual­i­fied—while re­tain­ing the au­thor­ity to weed out those mem­bers who they feel are ill-suited to the chair­man­ship. That said, the sec­tion of RSC bylaws al­low­ing chal­lengers to get onto the bal­lot by gath­er­ing sig­na­tures re­mains in­tact.

With Woodall prom­ising not to run for a full term — and only a few dozen le­gis­lat­ive days re­main­ing between now and Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions — the fo­cus will shift quickly to those can­did­ates seek­ing the RSC chair­man­ship in the next Con­gress.

The front-run­ner — and per­haps pro­hib­it­ive fa­vor­ite — is Rep. Mick Mul­vaney of South Car­o­lina, who back in March told Na­tion­al Journ­al that he planned to seek the po­s­i­tion and has been build­ing a vote-whip­ping ever since. Mul­vaney, like Woodall, is a mem­ber of the tea-party class of 2010 and is well-liked throughout the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

Mul­vaney’s stiffest com­pet­i­tion was ex­pec­ted to come from Rep. Marlin Stutz­man of In­di­ana, who al­most ran for RSC chair­man two years ago but backed out when his friend, Rep. Tom Graves of Geor­gia, entered the race. But Stutz­man, who lost last month’s race for ma­jor­ity whip, said Wed­nes­day that he won’t run for RSC chair­man and that he’s whip­ping votes for his close friend Mul­vaney.

That leaves a hand­ful of un­der­whelm­ing can­did­ates and po­ten­tial con­tenders.

Sev­er­al names are be­ing whispered as rivals to Mul­vaney — Reps. Andy Har­ris of Mary­land, Steph­en Finch­er of Ten­ness­ee, and Cyn­thia Lum­mis of Wyom­ing among them — but it’s un­clear wheth­er any could as­semble the co­ali­tion needed to de­feat Mul­vaney.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas has already an­nounced his can­did­acy, but he does not en­joy wide­spread sup­port in the group, as demon­strated by his un­suc­cess­ful bid against Jordan for RSC chair­man in 2010.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story in­cor­rectly iden­ti­fied the home state of Cyn­thia Lum­mis.

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