WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is facing re-election Nov. 6, but he has an even bigger vote scheduled for Nov. 15.
Scalise, R-Jefferson, is in a two-man fight to lead the Republican Study Committee, which is the largest caucus in Congress and the “conservative conscience” of Washington, D.C., as Scalise calls it. The committee includes more than 170 Republicans from the U.S. House.
Scalise, who has made a name for himself nationally as the recruitment vice chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, is challenging U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., to head the Republican Study Committee.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is the outgoing Republican Study Committee chairman.
It’s an uphill battle for Scalise because Graves is the recommended pick of the committee’s founders and past chairpersons, who traditionally make the selection.
But Scalise is forcing a vote because he said he has petitioned and acquired more than 25 percent of the signatures of the committee’s membership. Scalise said he is actually closer to 50 percent, so he insisted he is optimistic about the Nov. 15 vote.
“I want to get back to its roots as a member-driven organization,” Scalise said, noting that U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, was previously elected chairman after the founders had picked someone else.
“I’m still working and talking to members everyday,” Scalise said.
No one from Louisiana has ever chaired the nearly 40-year-old committee.
While Scalise has four opponents in the Nov. 6 open primary election in southeastern Louisiana, none of them are well financed and political pundits expect Scalise to be reelected with relative ease.
The Republican Study Committee’s Nov. 15 vote will come in a closed meeting during new member orientation.
Scalise joined Congress in 2008 — two years before Graves — and he said he is the choice with the proven legislative record. “I think most of the members like my approach, and I’ve got a proven record.”
He said he succeeded in his legislative attempt to rid President Barack Obama of four of his “czars” in areas such as health care and climate change.
The Republican Study Committee in recent years has embraced the tea party movement and, at times, butted heads with the Republican House leadership led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on budgetary and other matters. Scalise is positioned as a candidate who can assert the conservative agenda but also work with the party leadership.
The committee is an independent conservative research arm, but it also develops much of the party’s conservative legislation.
“It’s not just a think tank,” Scalise said.
Apart from Scalise, U.S. Reps. John Fleming, R-Minden, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, are the other committee members from Louisiana.
Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said leading the Republican Study Committee is a big deal, but not as critical for Louisiana as having someone chair one of the major money committees in Congress.
“But, given the importance of House conservatives, and they’re going to be important no matter who wins (the presidency), it’s a way to exert power,” Goidel said.
“Any time you’re in a leadership positions, you have the potential to use that leadership to help the state,” Goidel said, calling the effort a “great move” for Scalise win or lose.
Goidel said the position would actually be able to leverage more power in Congress if Obama wins re-election because the Republican Study Committee membership could stand in the way of stopping Democratic legislation and further influencing the Republican leadership.