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August 28, 2014

Posts in "Steve Scalise"

August 14, 2014

Cantor Voting Rights Act Legacy is Failure to Deliver, Democrats Say

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Democrats wonder if Cantor was all talk on the Voting Rights Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Passing a new Voting Rights Act in the GOP-dominated House was never going to be easy, supporters acknowledge. But with a powerful Republican such as Eric Cantor as an ally, hope flickered for nearly a year.

Then came June 10 and the shocking primary defeat that tanked Cantor’s congressional career — taking with it, in all likelihood, any prospect for an update of the landmark 1965 civil rights legislation that had been weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

Even with Cantor as majority leader, said a House aide close to the VRA negotiations, “I would have speculated that it was certainly a very steep climb. That it was unlikely, but there was still hope.”

But with the Virginia Republican out of the mix, the aide said, “it doesn’t appear we’re going to see it this Congress.”

It’s a disappointing turn that has some Democrats wondering if Cantor ever deserved the benefit of a doubt on minority voting rights. Full story

August 5, 2014

After Border Drama, Republicans Assess Steve Scalise

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Scalise, left, faced an important test during the border funding fight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Newly installed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise helped resurrect the GOP’s border legislation last week, but his strategy for shoring up the votes has left some members and aides wondering whether he will be able to keep an unruly flock in line.

Worrying about making the rank and file happy, he assisted in salvaging a $694 million appropriations measure to bolster resources at the U.S.-Mexico border largely by giving in to the demands of the far-right contingent of the GOP conference — including Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota — rather than bringing down the proverbial hammer.

There’s anxiety among more moderate parts of the party over how Scalise will help hold the conference together to avoid another government shutdown when the chamber reconvenes next month, and how his own desires to win re-election to the whip position in November could factor into how he does his job.

Full story

July 30, 2014

Majority Leader-Elect McCarthy Inherits Top Cantor Aides

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Four Eric Cantor aides will keep their jobs but have a new boss by the end of the week. Neil Bradley, Rob Borden, Robert Story Karem and Roger Mahan will work for incoming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Bradley will remain deputy chief of staff, a position he also held for two years when Cantor was the minority whip and when Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was House majority whip.

Full story

Majority Whip-Elect Steve Scalise Staffs Up

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Scalise staffers took stock of his leadership bid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The new House GOP leadership team is staffing up.

On Tuesday evening, just days before he officially assumes the rank of No. 3 House Republican with Kevin McCarthy poised to take on the post of No. 2, Majority Whip-Elect Steve Scalise, R-La., released the names of the aides who will either join his office or follow him into his new suite in the Capitol proper.

Many of the men and women currently on his payroll — either in his personal office or at the Republican Study Committee where he served as chairman — will stay on board, assuming equivalent titles or taking on new ones. Full story

July 1, 2014

House GOP’s Secret Vote, Deconstructed

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Scalise leaves the hearing room after the June 19 secret vote electing him majority whip. Only three people know the leadership vote totals. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s been 12 days since House Republicans elected a new majority leader and majority whip behind the closed doors of the House Ways and Means Committee room. And though the ballots and vote totals were a secret, plenty of members and staff think they have an idea. The problem is, they’re probably wrong.

With the exception of the three members who counted the ballots — Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Flores of Texas, and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina — no one definitively knows the vote totals.

Unless, of course, they cracked the safe in conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s Cannon office, where the ballots are kept. Those ballots — numbered sheets of paper with candidate names scrawled on each — have not yet been destroyed, contrary to earlier practices, an aide confirmed.

Full story

June 25, 2014

Georgia’s Woodall Up for ‘Placeholder’ Chairman of Republican Study Committee

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Woodall, R-Ga., is up for interim chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, 3:05 p.m. | Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee will vote after the July 4 recess on whether to install two-term Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall as a “placeholder” chairman for the remainder of the year, with colleagues saying his selection is all but certain.

On Wednesday afternoon, on his way downstairs to the weekly RSC meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Woodall told CQ Roll Call that “the founders and past chairmen are going to recommend to the membership that I be the placeholder ’til elections happen in November, and the membership will have to ratify that.”

He said he expected the vote to take place at that very meeting, but former RSC chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ultimately told reporters after the huddle dispersed that due to procedural issues, the vote would be postponed. Jordan added that the delay had nothing to do with members’ support for Woodall, which was substantial. Other members exiting the meeting confirmed that characterization of the situation. Full story

June 24, 2014

‘Cruz Caucus’ Talks Leadership Elections in Both Chambers

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Cruz met again Tuesday with House conservatives. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz held another closed-door meeting with House conservatives Tuesday night, sitting down with insurgents over pizza in his office for a free-flowing discussion about immigration, leadership elections, the IRS and recent changes at the Republican Study Committee.

Over the course of about an hour and a half, 14 of the most conservative members of the House piled into Cruz’s Dirksen office for what was described in an email as an off-the-record gathering of “discussion and fellowship.”

The attendees were, in the order in which they arrived: Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Trent Franks of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, John Fleming of Louisiana, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Steve Stockman of Texas, Paul Broun of Georgia, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Ted Yoho of Florida, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. (Lamborn was facing a primary back home.)

This isn’t the first time Cruz has met quietly with House conservatives. He met in the basement of Tortilla Coast with 15 to 20 House Republicans during the government shutdown in October. He also met with a similar group of House Republicans in his office in April.

The topics of conversation at these meetings have been the subject of vivid speculation.

But Tuesday night, Cruz looked to downplay the whole affair as he entered the meeting at 7:09 p.m.

“You guys have made a mountain out of a molehill,” the Texas Republican told CQ Roll Call. He noted that he had met with conservatives “periodically,” and he implied such gatherings aren’t a big deal. Full story

June 23, 2014

Jockeying Begins for Republican Study Committee (Updated)

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Mulvaney is among the lawmakers mounting a bid for the Republican Study Committee chairmanship. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:58 p.m. | Two high-profile GOP leadership races have just ended, but a new one’s just getting started.

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana was elected on June 19 to ascend to the majority whip’s office on Aug. 1, which means the Republican Study Committee will have an opening for a new chairman — and ambitious candidates hoping to emerge as the House’s next conservative leader are ready to start campaigning. Full story

June 18, 2014

McCarthy Cruises; Whip Race Still a Tossup

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Stutzman and others made their final pitch to Republicans ahead of Thursday whip race. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Candidates for House Republican leadership made their final pitches Wednesday morning, pressing for unity while leading their factions into what will be a divisive Thursday vote to decide the future of the conference.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California retained his position as a lock to become majority leader, although Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho is mounting an upstart challenge, driven by a simmering dissatisfaction with leadership.

But the race to replace McCarthy remains fluid. Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana got a boost Wednesday morning. Reps. Joe Pitts and Bill Shuster, both of Pennsylvania, pledged their support to Scalise and said they would whip their 11 GOP Keystone State colleagues, many of whom remain undecided, according to a source familiar with the group.

Full story

June 17, 2014

Would-Be Whips Woo Conservatives, Reassure Moderates

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Majority whip race contender Roskam says he can tame the House Republican Conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Candidates for House majority whip are pushing their cases hard in the last hours of the race, each promising to heal a party scarred by infighting and at the same time, wrangle the conference into a united voting bloc.

In the run-up to Thursday’s pivotal vote, Rep. Peter Roskam, the chief deputy whip, is touting himself as the most experienced candidate — and the only one who will be a disciplinarian toward rambunctious members who vote out of step with leadership.

The Illinois Republican said he would punish members who vote against leaders’ priorities, according to a member familiar with his pitch. Although that is much more difficult in a post-earmark world, Roskam laid out a slate of ideas, including refusing to take up unruly members’ bills, withholding plum committee assignments and even banishing rebels from the weekly conference breakfast, denying them a free meal if they do not play with the rest of the team. Full story

June 16, 2014

Roskam-Scalise Whip Race Heats Up, Gets Ugly

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From left, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Roskam, R-Ill., and Scalise, R-La., talk earlier this year. Scalise and Roskam are now rivals for the house whip post. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The two front-runners in the race to become the next House majority whip spent the weekend shoring up support with potential allies — and, through staff, taking swipes at each other.

A source close to Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, in an emailed memo to CQ Roll Call, said the 90-plus members in the House who have pledged to vote for the Illinois Republican are “rock solid,” while Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise’s numbers are “soft” and “all over the place since Thursday — at 100, 120, over 100, etc. etc.

“No one wants a whip who can’t count,” the source continued, “and no one wants a whip who overpromises and under-delivers.” Full story

June 11, 2014

Cantor Quake Sets Off GOP Leadership Fights

House Republicans quickly sloughed off the shock of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat and were immediately thrust into a weeklong, all-out sprint for power.

Next Thursday’s vote for new leadership will have ripple effects that touch every aspect of House policymaking, messaging and scheduling.

Republicans are hoping for a quick transition, counting on the chaos of this week’s unexpected primary results to give way to unity and a new leadership team. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio called on his conference to come together, even as internal elections are sure to tear them apart for the next week.

“This is the time for unity; the time for focus — focus on the thing we all know to be true: The failure of Barack Obama’s policies and our obligation to show the American people we offer them not just a viable alternative, but a better future,” he told his conference in a private meeting Wednesday night. Full story

May 30, 2014

House Marijuana Votes Earn Backing of Rare Bipartisan Coalition (Video)

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Rohrabacher helped steer the medical marijuana amendment through the House. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a series of late-night votes that marijuana-rights advocates say reflect a nation’s changing attitudes, the Republican-controlled House moved early Friday  to block the federal government from interfering with state laws on pot and hemp.

The most far-reaching of the votes — a measure to cut funds for Drug Enforcement Agency raids on medical marijuana operations — passed 219-189 on the strength of an unusual coalition that cut across traditional partisan lines.

The medical marijuana measure was offered by conservative Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California as an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. 

There were 49 Republicans who voted “yes” on the medical marijuana amendment, jointly sponsored by Rohrabacher; Sam Farr, D-Calif.; Don Young, R-Alaska; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Tom McClintock, R-Calif.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Steve Stockman, R-Texas; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Dina Titus, D-Nev. Full story

May 16, 2014

House GOP Touts Water Bill as a Sign of Thriving, Post-Earmark World

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The water bill heading for a final vote is earmark free, after a long process and compromise from Shuster, left and Rahall, among others. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, May 17, 3:31 p.m. | The notion of passing a major infrastructure bill through the House and Senate without earmarks seemed, at first, unthinkable.

After all, it’s a highly dysfunctional Congress, there’s an army of outside conservative groups ready to thwart legislation that doesn’t meet their standards and members from both parties have complained an earmark moratorium is a reason it’s tough to get anything done.

But Speaker John A. Boehner insists things can get done, and he and Rep. Bill Shuster have a bipartisan water bill coming up to prove it. Should they succeed in the next few days, it might pave the way for a highway bill without special projects attached.

The bill is the bipartisan, bicameral conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and the speaker touts it as “a significant policy achievement.”

“Earmarks aren’t coming back on my watch,” the Ohio Republican told CQ Roll Call in a statement. “With the reforms in this agreement, Chairman Shuster has proven that we can do water resources bills without earmarks, and for that he deserves great credit.”

As a first-term chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster would have had an easier time seven years ago, when legislation to fund key water and infrastructure initiatives around the country was last signed into law.

That water bill was historically one of the only pieces of legislation to repeatedly come before Congress composed almost entirely of earmarks, basically constituting a laundry list of line items handpicked by lawmakers to pay for specific projects in their districts.

So Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, got to work early in the 113th Congress. He labored with his committee’s ranking member Nick J. Rahall II, a West Virginia Democrat facing a difficult re-election battle, to build consensus for the billions of dollars worth of water projects. (The final conference report hasn’t been scored, but House aides predicted the cost will be close to the Senate’s bill, which would cost $5.7 billion over five years.)

Shuster also reached out to the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee with WRRDA jurisdiction, Republican Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Democrat Timothy H. Bishop of New York.

Supported by party leadership and staff, Shuster set out to build consensus in uncharted territory. The congressman’s goal, according to GOP committee aides, was to educate everyone who would have a stake in the final bill.

He invited industry groups to Capitol Hill to weigh in, and he traveled across the country to learn what was important outside the Beltway. Shuster also took a hands-on approach to the social media campaign surrounding the effort, even lending his voice to an “explainer” video walking laymen through the ins and outs of reauthorizing water infrastructure projects.

Anticipating pushback from the right over legislation typically criticized for wasteful spending and government overreach, Shuster made sure conservatives were all on board, from Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana to to the usual suspects in the outside advocacy group community.

Heritage Action for America spokesman Dan Holler told CQ Roll Call that Shuster’s gestures went a long way toward his group’s inclination not to score votes on the measure when it first passed the House last fall, which meant there weren’t political consequences for backing it on the floor.

“You pull back and look at what this bill is, it is not something that we would generally be supportive of, [but] they went through a very painstaking process through this, and that really gave them an opportunity to explain what they were doing,” Holler said.

And Republican and Democratic committee staff worked on getting around the whole earmark problem.

In the past, individuals would take their water infrastructure requests to the Army Corps of Engineers — which executes construction and maintenance activities — directly to their representatives on Capitol Hill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, would then fashion new authorization bills based on those requests.

While the practice clearly ran afoul of the earmarking ban, stopping it would mean ceding authority to the executive branch. The Senate’s approach to skirting its own earmark prohibition involved automatically authorizing projects with positive reviews from the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Shuster and other House Republicans didn’t like the idea of handing over project selection powers to the Obama administration — or any future administration — for fear that Congress wouldn’t be able to easily wrest back that power.

For WRRDA, their solution was to create a whole new process wherein local sponsors would take their projects directly to their regional Army Corps of Engineers office for review. Positively reviewed projects would be submitted to Congress as part of annual reports, and lawmakers would get to review those reports before including them in future water bills.

Shuster and company took their pitch to Republican leaders, who gave them the green light to move ahead. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House late last year, with just three dissenting votes. When both chambers finally finished hashing out one combined water bill, the House’s framework prevailed.

Two days after the conference report’s release, Holler told reporters that Heritage Action and the group’s think tank and policy arm, the Heritage Foundation, felt that while the final product was a step in the right direction, its conservative credentials had been diluted by the Democratic-controlled Senate during negotiations.

“We’re not exactly impressed,” Holler said, but he stopped short of suggesting the group would seek to punish lawmakers who vote “yes.” Even if Heritage Action does decide to score votes, the bill is likely to pass, given its wide bipartisan support and the compelling narrative Republicans have created around the bill as one that doesn’t betray the party’s values.

The last WRRDA measures became law in 2007, only after Congress took a rare vote to override President George W. Bush’s veto of the legislation on the grounds that it spent too much — on earmarks. Shuster’s goal? Reauthorizing the law in 2016 and every two years hence.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Bishop said lawmakers felt “a sense of urgency” to get to work because it had been seven years since the last legislation. He dubbed the earmark ban “bad public policy,” but admitted the process worked well this year.

Practically speaking, WRRDA is so unique it’s not likely to give lawmakers a template they can replicate in other comparable bills. It could, however, create precedent going forward in an earmark-free Congress, especially in the case of the highway bill, which needs to be reauthorized this year and probably won’t enjoy as smooth and bipartisan a legislative journey.

The Senate is already generating new ideas on how to retain lawmakers’ supervision of project selection without relying on earmarks, no doubt inspired by provisions in the water bill.

Earlier this month, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Senate’s proposed highway legislation, which would include a new grant program run by the Transportation Department that would spend $400 million annually on projects of regional or national significance.

There is a similar, existing DOT initiative known as TIGER, but the Senate program would be subject to greater congressional oversight: If lawmakers don’t like what they see, they’ll be able to block funding with a joint resolution of disapproval.

The Senate proposal is an attempt to get to the heart of objections to the earmark ban, the argument that it diminishes Congress’ power over purse strings.

On the House side of the Capitol, Shuster has no illusions about the challenges of passing a highway bill, particularly when the matter of funding is still in question. But a Republican Transportation committee staffer called WRRDA a “blueprint” for Shuster going forward.

The chairman expressed similar remarks at an association gathering earlier this year: “I’m really lucky that I had the WRRDA bill first … I learned a tremendous amount on how to put something together.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated the day after it was published to add breaking news about Heritage Action’s stance on the legislation.

March 24, 2014

Tom Graves Returns to Leadership’s Good Graces, Vows to Keep Conservative Edge

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Once chosen as heir to the conservative movement on Capitol Hill, Rep. Tom Graves is coming back into the establishment fold.

The Georgia congressman known for his votes against government spending is poised to next year become chairman on a subcommittee that directs those very same federal dollars.

That marks an unprecedentedly quick turnaround for a member who was nearly shoved off the Appropriations Committee three years ago for voting against chairmens’s bills — and, in fact, was removed from the GOP whip team for advocating against leadership’s positions.

Graves’ colleagues and congressional aides point to his ascent as an example of the maturation of the rambunctious tea party class of 2010 (of which Graves is an honorary member, having joined Congress in a special election just months prior to the wave). His evolution, they say, was spurred by a stinging loss in the 2012 race to chair the conservative Republican Study Committee, despite an endorsement by the group’s founders.

He was on the outs with leadership just months ago, but Graves now inhabits a rare and coveted status on the Hill, drawing accolades from both leadership and outside conservative groups — two camps that have publicly sparred in recent months. Whether he can maintain the middle ground in the long-term has yet to be tested.

In a recent interview in his congressional office, Graves said he is intent on preserving his conservative edge — even with a leadership position on the committee stacked with proud compromisers and deal-cutters who most often attract the intraparty scorn of tea party boosters. The key, he said, is a move from continuing spending to cutting it.

“I think it’s possible to have a conservative serve in a cardinal position, a subcommittee chair position, and be very effective,” he said.

His votes against spending bills were more against continuing resolutions, he said. The committee aspires to produce all spending bills through regular order this year, a process Graves said he would support.

Yet the Georgia Republican, who on his website boasts once sporting a mohawk haircut and riding a motorcycle, is more comfortable in the agitator’s role. His pedigree is that of someone all but groomed to become RSC chairman. In the Georgia statehouse, he co-founded the 216 Policy Group, a cadre of members modeled after the RSC that, at times, advocated against the Republican state speaker’s positions. He was stripped of committee assignments because of it.

So he was naturally frustrated when his campaign to head the RSC was stymied, in part because leadership worked behind the scenes to back his opponent, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., one of Graves’ closest friends on the Hill, said the high school football standout who now trains for triathlons is an intense competitor.

“Tom obviously was disappointed after the RSC run,” Southerland said. “I’m proud of him for saying, ‘You know what? I’ve got to move on. When the horse is dead, dismount and make a difference.’”

To prove that there are no hard feelings, Graves was asked back onto the whip team last year by the House GOP’s head vote-counter. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he has become an invaluable asset to the team, serving as liaison between leadership, appropriators and conservatives.

“He’s good at helping me get votes,” McCarthy said. “He has great knowledge from approps. He has great knowledge from a base within the conference, to explain approps.”

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said Graves gives the committee conservative credibility and he helps attract support from members who might otherwise vote against any spending bills, mostly recently on the omnibus appropriations bill. That may be why Westmoreland used his perch on the Republican Steering Committee to help begrudgingly place Graves on the committee in the first place.

“I don’t know that he really wanted to do it. He didn’t seem really excited about it. But we needed someone conservative on appropriations,” Westmoreland said.

Now, a spate of retirements at the top rungs of the committee put the junior member in line for a chairmanship. But Rep. Tom Cole, who chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee — the panel Graves is most likely to head next year — said Graves is figuring out his place in the conference.

“I think he’s figuring out that you can be a very conservative member of the appropriations committee and get things done, or you can stand on the outside and throw rocks and not get anything done,” the Oklahoman said.

Graves, a tall, fit 44-year-old, said he has embraced his go-between role. And he has worked to build what he calls a “unique relationship” with Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a gruff, cigar-puffing 77-year-old.

“It’s been joked about that we’re the odd couple,” Graves said. “We get along very well. We work together. We don’t always agree, but we’re very open and transparent about where we stand on things.”

That relationship underwent some strain during the October government shutdown, aides and members said. Graves pushed a funding bill apart from leadership that would have disallowed financing the Affordable Care Act, and rankled Rogers in the process.

The House eventually passed a different bill defunding Democrats’ health care law, but it was not taken up by the Senate, and Graves eventually voted against the deal to end the shutdown. But he later supported the bipartisan budget deal setting topline spending levels for two years.

That vote, and the one he cast for the resulting omnibus appropriations bill, cost Graves some stature with outside groups such as Heritage Action, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, who keep scorecards grading members’ performance on key votes. Graves used to be one of the highest scoring members, but his score this year has dipped.

That is not troubling yet, said FreedomWorks Executive Vice President Adam Brandon. But he is keeping watch.

“I’m not going to go beat him because he’s only voting in the 80s,” he said. “If he starts dipping into the 70s and going native, we’re not going to be cool with that.”

Correction: 6:26 p.m.

An earlier version of this post mischaracterized Graves’ vote on the bill ending the shutdown.

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