Fantasy Congress: Minority Faces Potential Revolt Next Cycle

House Leaders Prepare To Draft Leadership Teams After Election

October 20, 2010, 7:00 PM

Oct. 22, 2010 -- With less than two weeks until the congressional midterm elections and speculation running rampant over Capitol Hill as to what the House leadership might look like in the 112th Congress, sources said that the party that finds itself in the minority could suffer a revolution among its leadership ranks.

Although most congressional sources are reluctant to discuss hypothetical leadership changes that rely on theoretical scenarios, the consensus is that there are sure to be some promotions and changes to the leadership of both parties in the next Congress.

Sources indicated the scramble for support for those posts will be fervent immediately following the election Nov. 2 and will intensify when lawmakers return to the Capitol for a lame duck session of Congress Nov. 15.

Leadership elections, sources from both parties say, are built on friendships and personal relationships that can go back many years when determining support for leadership posts. Aides on Capitol Hill joked that the post-election leadership scramble is much like a high school election for student government.

Multiple senior Republican aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, offered a look ahead at what the GOP's House leadership might look like if Republicans are able to win back control of the House Nov. 2.

House Minority Leader John Boehner is the clear frontrunner for speaker if Republicans take over the House. Boehner has spoken openly with reporters about what the House might look like under a Speaker Boehner, and he would not likely be challenged for the speaker's job.

Boehner has paid his dues and has his finger on the pulse of the GOP conference, more so than any other members, Republican aides said. The 10-term Republican always is working behind the scenes and best understands what members of the conference want and how to provide that for them.

Boehner also has hit the stump hard for Republican candidates, making more than 160 campaign stops and raising more than $44 million for candidates and party committees. In the past week, Boehner has visited districts for seven different House races across the south in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Should Republicans find themselves in the majority, current House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a Republican from Richmond, Va., also likely would hold on as the GOP's second-ranking House Republican, ascending to majority leader.

But after Cantor, it is not as clear how the rest of a GOP House leadership could play out. Sources indicated that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, currently the fourth-ranking House Republican, could jump GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., for the House majority whip's job.

McCarthy, R-Calif., a founding member of the GOP's Young Guns, is seen as a rising star in the party and played a central role in shaping the GOP's proposed legislative agenda, "A Pledge to America." If Republicans do well in the election, he likely will be credited as the key strategist behind the takeover.

If he wants it, Pence could hold on as conference chairman, but he is thought to be contemplating a run for governor of Indiana or a challenge to President Obama for the White House in 2012. Sources pointed to recent visits to Iowa, an early primary-season caucus state, and some prominent family values speeches as possible hints on Pence's future.

Whatever Pence decides, GOP sources said, he has multiple options and is a true wild card. He is viewed as a more conservative Republican and calls himself "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican -- in that order."

At the Values Voter Summit in Washington last month, Pence won a straw poll among conservatives asking who they most would like to see challenge President Obama in 2012. Pence beat out a host of other possible GOP presidential contenders, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Pence's office, however, declined to comment on his political future and stressed that his focus is centered on helping elect a conservative majority this fall -- not possible leadership posts in the 112th Congress and not 2012.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, also is seen as a possible contender for majority whip. Sessions is a close ally of Boehner and currently heads the National Republican Congressional Committee. Sources believed if he does well there in helping Republicans take control of the House, he could be interested in weighing a challenge for whip.

Republican sources said other rising stars that could possibly challenge for the GOP conference chair or other leadership posts are the current vice-chairwoman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif.

If House Republicans fail to knock the Democrats out of power, however, the party's leadership structure could fall apart and a free-for-all could ensue. GOP sources believe this is the Republicans best opportunity in years at taking over the majority. If they fail, the sources said, it's unclear whether Boehner would remain as the House Republican leader or whether someone like Cantor, McCarthy or someone else would take over the post.

Across the aisle, the House Democratic leadership also is in flux depending on how the election shakes out.

One Democratic congressman broke the dam this week when he suggested Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not seek reelection to the House's top post even if Democrats maintain their majority -- a claim the speaker's office has flatly dismissed.

Despite a small group of House Democrats saying they would not support Pelosi for speaker in the next Congress, if Democrats do retrain control of the House, most Democratic insiders believe Pelosi would retain her post as the first female speaker in the history of the House of Representatives.

Pelosi told PBS's Charlie Rose Wednesday that she intends to stay speaker.

"I have every anticipation that we'll come together in a similar format as we are now with me as speaker of the House." Pelosi said.

Republicans need to gain 40 seats in order to take the majority from Democrats on Nov. 2.

Another scenario is possible if Republicans fall a few seats short of majority control. The speaker position requires the support of a majority of the full House of Representatives, not just a majority within the party.

GOP sources said that Boehner might be able to form a majority by picking up support from the eight Democrats who have come out publicly against supporting Pelosi for speaker.

The last time a sitting speaker suffered a defeat and stayed on as minority leader was Sam Rayburn. The Texas Democrat lost his hold on the speaker's chair in 1953 until Democrats retook control of the House two years later in 1955, when Rayburn retook the gavel.

Former speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., did not seek a leadership position in the 110th Congress after Republicans lost their majority in the 2006 congressional midterm elections. He ended up resigning from Congress altogether mid-session in 2007.

If Democrats hold on, multiple Democratic sources say not to expect much of a shake-up. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., likely would keep his post as the House's second-ranking Democrat while Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. is also expected to hold onto his position as Majority Whip.

While Democratic sources maintain optimism that the Democrats will hold onto the majority, if they do not, sources said, pandemonium could follow as members jockey for position.

Pelosi, Democratic sources said, likely would find many members ready to challenge her for the top Democratic leadership position.

But who emerges as minority leader is anyone's guess. Hoyer is viewed as a loyal No. 2, riding shotgun to Pelosi. But if she decides not to stay on as the Democrats' top-ranking member in a minority, Hoyer might not be a slam-dunk to ascend to minority leader.

Hoyer has served more than 30 years in the House and it was his broad support across many of the Democratic caucuses that voted him majority leader over Pelosi-backed Rep. John Murtha in 2006.

But many of those close relationships are with incumbents who are in jeopardy of losing tough re-election contests. Without that base, Democratic sources said, Hoyer's appeal to the caucus could become weakened.

For his own part, Hoyer has maintained a busy schedule campaigning for House Democrats, with stops just this week in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Louisiana. Hoyer already has campaigned for Democratic candidates from more than 80 congressional districts and has raised more than $5 million for Democratic candidates this cycle.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, who has the tough responsibility of helping to elect Democrats to House seats and stave off a Republican takeover of the chamber, is seen as someone who could possibly move into a new Democratic leadership role next cycle.

Van Hollen, who on top of his current role as DCCC chairman has a dual leadership responsibility as assistant to the Speaker of the House, has made it clear that he will not likely stick around at the DCCC for another election cycle, leaving that leadership position up for grabs next cycle.

But Democratic aides cautioned that he might not rise too high in a Democratic minority. Although sources admit Van Hollen has been dealt a tough hand, if Democrats lose 40 or 50 seats in the House, sources questioned why he would be deserving of a promotion in the Democratic party's leadership.

Democratic sources said the leadership position to watch would be the one vacated by Van Hollen at the DCCC. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., all are seen as rising stars in the party and could launch campaigns for that opening.

Even if Democrats lose, sources said, Clyburn has a wide base of support and likely would hold onto a top Democratic leadership position in the minority.

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