Labrador worked the phones but came up short. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
They may have lost their fight to change leadership, but they intend to force leadership to change.
Conservatives who backed Raúl R. Labrador’s bid for majority leader are saying they are already on to the next battle to force change from within the House Republican Conference.
Austin Scott, R-Ga., who was one of Labrador’s earliest supporters, told CQ Roll Call that like-minded lawmakers are “extremely likely” to pursue an effort to address how the House operates.
“A lot of us, not just conservatives, are going to press to rewrite the rules of the House,” Scott said.
Specifically, Scott mentioned frustration regarding the three-day rule, which is supposed to give members at least three days time between when a bill is posted and when it comes up for a vote. In practice, House leaders could post a bill at 11:59 p.m. on a Tuesday and vote on it at 12:01 a.m. on a Thursday, which is why Scott called it, “technically, the 24-hours and two-minutes” rule.
Labrador found some traction in his message of abiding by the three-day rule, allowing more votes on amendments, giving more power to the committees and members and taking power away from leadership staffers.
The winner of the race, current Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, seemed to glom onto that message, adopting much of Labrador’s platform in his candidates’ forum speech ahead of the closed-door vote.
Whether McCarthy can actually make those changes before he faces another leadership challenge remains to be seen. He’ll be majority leader for 15 days before the next leadership elections are held on Nov. 17.
And Labrador, who finds himself at a congressional crossroads, could lead a pressure campaign for McCarthy and the rest of the leadership team to solidify those promises.
“I think he’s got an important role to play in this conference,” Justin Amash recently said of Labrador.
“He represents the next generation of Republicans,” the Michigan Republican said, pointing to Labrador’s positions on civil liberties and “corporate welfare.”
Can these sorts of Republicans with their notorious independent streaks ever coalesce behind one leader? Amash seemed to think they could — whether it be Labrador, or Jeb Hensarling, or even himself, the chairman of the Liberty Caucus. “I think we’ve got some great candidates, and I hope Raúl takes another shot at it,” Amash said.
Labrador told reporters recently he views his failed bid as “a building block for something to come.” But, the Idaho Republican cautioned, “I don’t — I can’t tell you what that something to come is.”
He says his “next mission” is to sit down with every member of the GOP conference to discuss the race and the party’s direction. ”You can be a leader without being in leadership,” he said.
After Labrador lost the race, he sent around a “Dear Colleague” letter thanking members — even those who voted for McCarthy, who he thanked for their consideration.
“Every member agrees that we can do better; that we must do better. The process needs to be improved, the committees need to work their will, and our members need to feel more relevant,” he wrote in the letter.
Will Labrador try again? He says he doesn’t know, and that come November he will “reassess” with his wife and his family.
But, he said, “If I think that there’s a vacuum, and it needs to be filled, I’m not going to be asking anybody else to fill that vacuum.”
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