- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ahead of a potentially fractious three-way contest for House Majority Whip, Republicans on Tuesday stressed the need for a unifying conservative voice in a conference that’s often been split between leadership and the rank and file.

Reps. Peter J. Roskam of Illinois, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Marlin A. Stutzman of Indiana were busy making closing pitches to members of Pennsylvania’s Republican delegation late Tuesday as others said the position requires someone who can get them to hang together.

“I would say that our team does not practice together, we don’t think together, we don’t share information together, we don’t work together,” said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who dropped out of the race for majority leader last week. “I’m for unity. I’m for a person who understands unity.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is supporting Mr. Roskam, said there are many supposed undecideds who have already made up their minds but are keeping their powder dry to avoid public squabbles.

“I think Peter represents us because his skill in leadership will be able to move our team forward,” she said. “I think all of them will be representative of our caucus.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team have struggled at times to hold a restive conference together. Conservative opposition helped lead to the unexpected failure of a high-profile farm subsidy and food stamp bill last June that finally cleared Congress in February and culminated in the partial shutdown of the federal government last fall.

And Mr. Roskam is indeed a chief deputy whip — a position that gives him a measure of experience with the process but also one that intrinsically ties him to a leadership team that conservatives view at times with wariness.

“I’m not comfortable with the way and the direction that we’re going” in leadership, said Rep. Paul A. Gosar of Arizona. “America is scared. America is angry. We saw that in some of the elections recently, and there’ll be more to come.”

Mr. Gosar was alluding to Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, whose loss in a primary election last week triggered the quick leadership contests. Current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California appears to have the inside track against Rep. Raul R. Labrador of Idaho, who on Tuesday claimed momentum was on his side in the long shot bid to replace Mr. Cantor when he steps down at the end of July.

In a letter to colleagues making his case for the promotion to whip, Mr. Roskam struck a similar tone to Mr. Sessions, alluding to difficulties within the conference that, among other things, led to the partial shutdown of the federal government last fall, when some conservative members resisted supporting spending bills that fully funded Obamacare.

“We haven’t always played smart. We haven’t always worked as a team. In some situations we haven’t scored any points or won the match,” Mr. Roskam wrote. “But I’m here to tell you, we don’t have to live this way.”

Some conservatives have said the shutdown was worth it in order to demonstrate their willingness to stand on the principle of total opposition to Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, but polls show Republicans took the brunt of the blame for it.

Mr. Scalise’s pitch includes his representing a district in a solidly red, southern state on a leadership team that includes Mr. Boehner and Mr. McCarthy, who hail from states Mr. Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Mr. Stutzman, in his own letter to colleagues, highlighted his status as a member of the class elected in 2010, when Republicans retook control of the House in part by riding a wave that swept in dozens of newer, more conservative members.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen also said the conference is “blessed” to have three good candidates but that she’s personally closer to Mr. Roskam because they have worked together on several issues — notably Israel.

“Peter I just know very well because of his advocacy for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, so we work together a lot,” she said.

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