Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Running for Senate … and Away From Boehner

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

McCarthy, center, booted Cassidy, right, from the House GOP whip team for breaking with leaders during a vote on a Democratic flood insurance bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy was relieved of his Republican leadership role earlier this month, but instead of taking it as a dishonor, he celebrated.

Cassidy’s Senate campaign — he’s running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu — dispatched a press release the next week vaunting an Associated Press story about House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California booting him from the whip team for breaking with GOP leaders and voting for a Democratic flood insurance bill.

It may seem counterintuitive for someone seeking higher office to boast about being bumped down the totem pole, but not this election year.

Cassidy is just one example of GOP congressmen distancing themselves from their leaders to inoculate themselves against bruising Republican primary attacks or to better position themselves in the general elections pivotal to deciding control of the Senate.

“Self-preservation in a political campaign has to be a priority, and people make a political calculation as to how close they want to align themselves with … the leadership,” said former Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn. “That’s just a cold political calculation that they have to make for themselves.”

Nine House Republicans are vying for Senate seats this year and, in many cases and for various reasons, have found it necessary to challenge their leadership.

In Cassidy’s case, he sided with Democrats on a flood insurance procedural vote, an issue on which Landrieu, too, has publicly bucked the White House. “He has always put flood insurance ahead of everything else,” Cassidy spokesman John Cummins said. “He put party aside and did what was right for the people of Louisiana.”

In most cases, though, members find themselves running to the right on a backdrop of simmering Republican infighting, with tea party conservative activists backing their own candidates against ones they see as too aligned with the Republican establishment.

“Anyone who is a Washington politician is going to be running away from Washington this cycle,” said former National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Guy Harrison. “Just look at the poll numbers.”

Poll after poll since the October government shutdown has found that seven in 10 voters disapprove of the job congressional Republicans are doing, most recently this month’s McClatchy-Marist Poll, which found the disapproval rate at 72 percent.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio does not fare much better personally. A January Gallup poll found that just 28 percent of respondents approved of his handling of the speakership.

Some congressmen need no impetus to rebel against their leaders. The entire campaign apparatuses of Reps. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, and Paul Broun, R-Ga., seem predicated on combating Boehner and the top GOP brass.

Yet nowhere is the dynamic of Republicans fleeing their leaders more apparent than in the seven-way Georgia GOP primary, where Broun and two other congressmen are among the candidates scrapping for the nomination — and where Boehner recently became an issue.

Broun ripped his primary opponent Rep. Jack Kingston as a “Boehner-Republican” for voting with the speaker too often. “While we all wish that was a reliable measure of conservative, experience has taught that it’s not,” Broun said in a Wednesday statement.

As an Appropriations cardinal, Kingston has in fact voted with leadership on many spending measures. But the pattern shifted recently.

Though he was involved in crafting the measure, Kingston was the lone appropriator from either party to turn his back on leaders last month and vote against the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to keep the government running. He also voted against the underlying bipartisan budget deal. Unsurprisingly, so did Broun and Rep. Phil Gingrey, the third congressman in that race.

If asked only to vote on the part of the bill he wrote, Kingston would have supported it, said campaign spokesman Chris Crawford. But overall, the package spent too much and so he could not support it. Crawford declined to comment on Broun’s attack.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Cotton, who is the GOP’s presumptive choice to take on Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in November, resisted House leaders’ attempt to tie a vote linking the debt limit to military pensions. In a private meeting earlier this month, he told the Republican Conference that the choice would damn him either way, making him vote either against the military or for a debt limit increase.

Leaders eventually allowed a clean debt limit increase on the floor and separately put forward a bill to avoid slated cuts to military pensions. Cotton, an Army veteran, voted for the military pensions bill and against the debt limit hike.

Cotton, said his spokesman David Ray, is “not afraid to stand up to his own party when he thinks they’re wrong.”

He, and just about every other House-bred Senate candidate, similarly stood up to House leaders when they broached an immigration rewrite earlier this year. Notable among those was Oklahoma candidate Rep. James Lankford, who is the fifth-ranking Republican in the House as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. Montana GOP candidate Rep. Steve Daines told leaders in a private meeting that pushing an overhaul would be bad for his race.

Cassidy and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who is the GOP establishment-backed candidate in West Virginia, also resisted an immigration push, but they voted with leaders on the omnibus bill and the budget deal.

Gingrey said the immigration push shows House leaders were thinking more about positioning the party for a 2016 presidential bid, but it would have been at the expense of GOP Senate candidates this year.

“I think it’s an advantage to the incumbent Democratic senators who represent red states today,” he said. “It almost seems to me there’s more concern over putting our party in a position to win in 2016, but to me that’s all for naught if we lose in 2014.”

(Note: Story has been updated to reflect one of eight candidates in the Georgia GOP Senate primary dropping out over the weekend. It is now a seven-way primary.)

  • Andre Leonard

    No one wants to be on the losing team. The GOP has become the losing team because of poor leadership. No doubt Boehner and McConnell are failures.

    While slow and painful, a change in leadership is necessary if the GOP is to survive. If not, they will continue to lose.

    • Layla

      They’d better pay attention because soon the Independent party will outnumber them.

      • Andre Leonard

        If history is any indicator the GOP will worsen. When I left the party I switched to Libertarian.

        The Constitution and Independent party’s are also picking up former GOP members who cannot relate to RINO’s also.

  • The Savage Hombre

    Why does Harry Reid constantly refuse to compromise?

    • Finetime71

      Once cannot say that Reid constantly refuses to compromise, but rather McConnell either refuses to compromise (to make Obama a one term President), backs away from a deal on a technicality, interjects poison bill amendments or worse, when Reid agrees to GOP deals, they filibuster them.

  • Charles Wolf

    The Republican party will be on the skids
    until they stop voting for Goofy Old Patriarchs,

  • Layla

    I don’t blame anybody for breaking with GOP leadership. After all, it is leadership who are pushing for an immigration bill. How about enforcing the laws already on the books? The American people just don’t believe you anymore. We should have had new GOP leadership after McCain lost his presidential election. You don’t keep the same team in leadership and expect any different results.

    • Finetime71

      So what laws should be enforced for the current problem, or is it clear what problems immigration reform is attempting to address? Deportations are at the highest level in history, over $5 BILLION spent on southern border fencing and counting, and funding for border patrol increased significantly before the GOP took a meat-ax to its budget. The net effect has been that net migration from Mexico has stopped and possibly even reversed. Most folks think 100% rather than 50% of the illegals in the US are from Mexico.

      • Layla

        Record numbers of young men are crossing into Texas, about 60,000 every few months. Obviously, what you’re doing isn’t working. We need to put troops on the border.

        • Finetime71

          No. The system is working to stem the tide of the documented The report says it is estimated that it “might” double to 60K a year, not every few months. It is not about scary young Mexican drug mule men with cantelope calves, but Central American youths whose parents are paying to get them away from the drugs and violence.
          As the US could reassign downsized troops to border patrol, consideration should be more about the economy of the US addiction problem that is keeping the drug cartels in business. If the parents are willing to pay to save their children, why not have rhem oay the US to attend special academies, rather pay smugglers to sneek them here to fend for themselves on our dime?

          • Layla

            Because we are a nation OF LAWS. The administration, the Congress do not get to selectively choose which they will enforce and we do NOT accept bribes. These people are criminals and they know that. We all know that. It must be stopped, no deals.

          • Finetime71

            Yes, the administration has decided to focus on deporting real criminals rather than wasteful witch hunts, detain adults rather than children. Yes, GOP only want to “secure the border,” but selectively not support any program to address thise already here. As for bribes, let us know who and where?

  • Buckijer

    Why wont John Boehner support the extension of Federal Unemployment Benefits ???? His constituents are losing their homes.

  • Bozeman

    There is no empathy nor compassion in condemning the children of these united states further into the hock of hostile foreign creditors.

  • pappyswing

    I hope the republicans don’t nominate another non-winner like Mc Cain. Romney never had one chance in you know where of winning. I don’t care what anyone says….Riomney’s religion would not allow him to get down and dirty and spread bad crap about obama. The last month Romney tried to get a little dirty. By then obama had the election won.I was republican for 49 years…not anymore. I will not be democrat. Just don’t know yet. The republicans have this next presidential election to regroup, forget fighting among themselves and get down to business. If not…good-bye republicans. One big problem….too many old white haired half wits that are living in the eighties still. They don’t want any young blood in because the young wantto change the party to a winning party. Does anyone really thing Mc Cain or any of the others that have been for 30 or 40 years care if their party wins or not??? Hell no they don’t because they are mostly RINOS to begin with. We need term limits…but will never get them…UNLESS it is put on a nation wide ballot and let we the people decide for a change….instead of the crooks in DC. I really feel the republican party should be done away with and a new party formed. The republicans have a real good chance of taking the white house back in 2016…if they will use their heads But I really don’t have much faith. they will get stupid again and nominate some old has been un-electable like Mc Cain. Obama is out already trashing the republicans and our piece of crap RNC Reinse P. is doing as usual….nothing.. Why in hell the republicans don’t get on tv and defend our party and themselves is beyond me. , Everytime obama goes public with nothing but lies about republicans, the republicans say nothing. Look what obama said the other day about republicans wanting voter ID so the minorities, elderly people, and women cant vote because they have to have voter ID. Pure damn lies and the republicans have yet to say anything. If re[publicans don’t get the white house in 2016…kiss your back side good bye because that will be the end of the republican party. I will say one more thing…I mentioned it at the local “working mans coffee shop” guess how many laughs I got and how dumb most guys thought I was. Hillary wins one term..then .she is out. (Stop now and think how popular obama is) Michelle Obama runs…wins two terms and Obama then runs and wins two terms. Sound real stupid?????Don’t laugh people, it can happen. That is why I say if we don’t do it in 2016…we the republican party will be no more. I totally believe this can happen. Why aren’t the republicans out right now campaigning to win the senate???? Maybe wait until two month before we vote????. That sounds about like their stupidity.

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