While House Republicans are jockeying behind the scenes for coveted committee chairmanships should Democrats be ousted from leadership after the midterm elections, many political insiders don’t expect a drastic reshuffling of leadership within the GOP.
“I think the leadership stays pretty set,” said Thomas M. Davis III, a former House member from Virginia and president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership. “You’re not going to fire a team that’s just taken you to the promised land.”
Rep. Joe L. Barton, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, have party-imposed term limits on their leadership posts. But both are expected to petition the House Steering Committee to waive the rule and allow them to serve as chairmen if Republicans win the 39 additional seats necessary to take control of the House.
Neither has a lock on their leadership status.
Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, is the leader of the House Steering Committee. He has had a tense relationship with Mr. Barton and may be reluctant to grant the Texan another leadership term.
That tension increased during the summer when Mr. Barton accused the Obama administration of a “shakedown” after it secured a $20 billion compensation fund from BP PLC for victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Mr. Barton’s choice of words was a minor embarrassment for Mr. Boehner, who said he disagreed with him.
Mr. Barton later apologized for using the word “shakedown,” and has said he doesn’t think the House Steering Committee would use his comments against him.
“Mr. Barton is going to run for the chairmanship,” said Barton spokeswoman Lisa Miller. She quickly added that the lawmaker “is working hard to make sure that Republicans pick the chairman next year and that Democrats have a chance to fill the ranking members’ seats with their very best survivors.”
Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois have said they will seek the Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship if it’s available. Both have been longtime party loyalists, though Mr. Upton is considered the favorite because of his seniority over Mr. Shimkus.
“With unparalleled seniority, experience and demonstrated leadership, it is Fred’s goal to be the next chairman should Mr. Barton not receive a waiver,” said Upton spokesman Sean Bonyun. “But the utmost priority right now is recapturing the House.”
An Upton-led committee would return control of the panel to a lawmaker from Michigan. Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, was ousted as chairman by his party two years ago in favor of the more liberal Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California. Mr. Upton likely would fight proposals to strengthen regulation of carbon emissions and the “cap and trade” bill in the hope of protecting the state’s vital automotive industry.
A Shimkus spokesman said the lawmaker will petition to become either chairman or — if the Republicans remain in the minority — ranking member in the absence of Mr. Barton.
The spokesman added that Mr. Shimkus decided to seek the post regardless of Mr. Upton’s plans.
“It’s somewhat unilateral,” said Steven Tomaszewski. “He’s definitely presuming that … Mr. Upton is seeking it as well.”
Support for earmarks could hurt Mr. Lewis’ chances for a chairmanship. Mr. Boehner has made eradicating pet spending projects a priority.
Mr. Lewis did back the minority leader’s pledge this year for a one-year earmark moratorium by House Republicans. Lewis backers say the Californian’s support was crucial to persuading several reluctant members of the House Republican Conference to agree to the ban.
“There has been some chatter in conservative publications that Mr. Lewis is a champion of earmarks, but frankly that is not true,” said the Republican aide.
Mr. Lewis also helped raise about $1 million for House Republican re-election efforts since last year, the aide said, which could sway the House Steering Committee’s decision.
Still, some on Capitol Hill say that Mr. Lewis agreed to the moratorium only because it was temporary and that he will return to supporting the earmark process once the temporary ban is lifted.
Party leaders have agreed to waivers in the past, but Mr. Boehner and the other House Steering Committee members understand that such a move can upset the delicate seniority and damage party unity.
“I just know how tough that is because, if you’re wanting to waive it, you’ve got a lot junior members who want to move up the political food chain,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s an insiders’ knife fight.”
While the ranking Republicans on most other House panels presumably will be elevated to chairman should the party take control of the House, speculation persists that up to three Republicans are plotting to oust Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama as their party’s leader on the House Financial Services Committee.
Some Republicans privately have expressed concern that Mr. Bachus hasn’t stood up enough to the aggressive Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who has served as chairman of the panel since 2007.
Mr. Bachus’ tenure on the panel may hinge on how Mr. Boehner and the House Republican leadership plan to deal with the Democrats’ legislative legacy of the past two years. If Mr. Boehner and other party leaders are content with only tweaking or even moving past such financial measures as the sweeping Wall Street reform law, then the Alabama lawmaker may stay.
But if Mr. Boehner and his membership push to repeal these and other Democratic financial laws, then Mr. Bachus may be replaced with someone deemed more aggressive.
Rep. Ed Royce of California, a senior member of the committee, frequently has been mentioned as a replacement for Mr. Bachus. Others include Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Scott Garrett of New Jersey.
None of the would-be Bachus challengers publicly has expressed interest in the chairmanship, with aides reluctant even to speak off the record for fear of appearing too eager and presumptuous.
Rumors about Mr. Bachus’ potential ouster, however, have been more subdued in recent weeks. Speaking to reporters after a speech last month, the lawmaker from Alabama lawmaker insisted that he enjoys the support of top Republicans, including Mr. Boehner.
“There’s no question from anybody in leadership. … I’m going to have [Mr. Boehner’s] support,” CQ Politics News quoted him as saying.
Mr. Bachus also may have scored political points with the minority leader by raising more than $900,000 for the National Republican Congressional Committee — House Republicans’ fundraising arm — according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.