When it comes to finding a leadership role in the next Congress, Tom Price is running out of options. Price, a stalwart conservative House member from Georgia, is the outgoing Republican Policy Committee chairman, which ranked him fifth in the GOP House leadership. His position gave movement conservatives a representative at the leadership table. After all, Price once led the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and was instrumental in raising the profile of that conservative caucus.
Before last week’s election, Price was vying for the chairmanship on the Budget Committee, of which he’s a member. But Mitt Romney’s loss meant his running mate, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, will return to the House. Ryan is seeking a waiver from GOP leadership—which he’s likely to get—so he can serve another term as Budget chairman.
What remained for Price, then, was a run for chair for the Republican Conference, a role that would make him the chief message communicator within the GOP caucus. In the power rankings, the spot is fourth, just behind the majority whip, majority leader and speaker. But it looks like Price may be striking out there, too. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Republican who has risen fast in the ranks since she first entered the House in 2005, is the “prohibitive favorite” for conference chair, according to one source.
McMorris Rodgers has been serving as vice conference chair, and she’s well liked among the leadership. She was the Romney campaign’s official House liaison during the campaign, and she raised over $1 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Fundraising prowess is valuable among the establishment. It doesn’t hurt, either, that McMorris Rodgers is a woman—Republicans on the Hill are grappling with the party’s struggles with female voters. A competent congresswoman standing prominently alongside John Boehner and Eric Cantor, delivering the Republican message, is a step in the right direction, GOP sources say.
But McMorris Rodgers also has plenty of conservative credibility. She’s pro-life, a defense hawk, and has a lifetime rating of 92 from the American Conservative Union. (Price’s is 97.) Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, says the difference between McMorris Rodgers and Price on ideology is negligible.
“I think to try to frame this as a ‘conservative’ versus ‘not-so-conservative’ thing goes right out the window for me,” says Scott, who supports McMorris Rodgers because he says she’s done an “outstanding job” as conference vice chair.
Still, Price received some weighty endorsements from two former conference chairs. In a letter sent to House Republicans Friday, Mike Pence of Indiana and Jeb Hensarling of Texas expressed support for Price. Pence, however, was just elected governor of Indiana and may have minimal influence in internal House Republican politics. Both Pence and Hensarling, though, are former chairs of the RSC, which suggests the conference chair race between Price and McMorris Rodgers could come down to a fight between the “establishment” pick and the “conservative” alternative.
That’s a battle Speaker Boehner may not want to have. As BuzzFeed reported, Boehner offered Price the leadership chair, a largely ceremonial role that’s appointed by the House speaker. It’s not a plum position, but it provides a seat at the leadership table. Price rejected the offer and will keep challenging McMorris Rodgers. If he loses, the four-term congressman will spend his fifth term as backbencher. But Tim Scott, who calls Price “brilliant” and a friend, says Price will remain a valuable House member.
“He continues to be the backbone of the conference,” Scott says.