The new House Republicans have one contested race for a seat at the leadership table, the number-four ranking Chair of the Republican Conference.
Two staunch conservatives are running for the position: Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. While both are still making calls to whip their fellow members in the race, Hensarling seems to have more of the votes at this point.
The new House Republican caucus—the incumbents plus the 60 newly-elected freshmen—will meet on November 17 to vote for Conference Chair and the other leadership positions. The Republican Conference handles communications and policy papers for the members.
Hensarling, who was Chair of the Republican Study Committee, has the support of other leaders, including in-coming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), former Conference Chair Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and upcoming Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). (Speaker of the House-to-be John Boehner is not endorsing either candidate.)
Hensarling has also been endorsed by Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Spencer Bauchus (R-Ala.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who considered running herself. Also, Hensarling has the support of in-coming freshmen Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
Bachmann is highly visible in the national media and is the Tea Party’s closest ally in Congress. She has also set fundraising records on behalf of Tea-Party candidates. She has been endorsed by her fellow Minnesota Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen, and freshman Chip Cravaack. She also has the votes of Florida Rep.-Elect Sheriff Richard Nugent, Iowa Rep. Steve King, and Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert.
HUMAN EVENTS interviewed by phone both Hensarling and Bachmann about their platforms, positions, and unique qualifications for the job.
Hensarling has three main goals for the Republican Conference. First, he said that the Republicans are “up against the megaphone of the White House, and we’re going to need to ensure that we have a unified message.”
He conceded that he is not the best public spokesman. “I don’t plan to be the face and the voice of House Republicans. I plan to be a face and a voice,” said Hensarling. “But I want to empower a number of people, especially our freshmen, to be equipped to go out and win the debate.”
His second goal is to “put together a member services organization second to none,” which was what he focused on at the Republican Study Committee. He worked to provide members with “resources in a collective fashion” in order to “win the debate.”
Hensarling said that “the most important thing I want to do is to ensure that, this time, we live by our principles.”
“My number-one goal in having a seat at the leadership table is to make sure that the same mistake does not happen again, so that we will have the opportunity to advance the conservative cause,” he said.
Bachmann said that her primary task as Conference Chair would be her ability “to unify this new, independent voice from the Tea Party with the existing Republican majority.”
“I want to coalesce our caucus into becoming an effective voice articulating our positive message for getting our economy back on track,” she said.
Also, Bachmann cited her qualifications, including a “background in effective communications, both from Washington, D.C. and here with our local constituency.” She is a big proponent of using social media and other new media to reach people.
“We could have a tremendous impact on getting our message directly to people across the country if we utilize these important tools,” she said.
Bachmann said that she has 140,000 people on her Facebook page, and so one of her goals is to “encourage our members to reach over 100,000 people on their Facebook sites.”
She also wants the members to use Skype to hold free video-conferencing with their constituencies back home. These “tele-town halls” would help the GOP to “remain relevant”, and “fresh”, thereby “representing the voice of the people we serve” in better fashion.
Hensarling has been a leading conservative voice during his eight years in Congress. “I’m a guy who has a proven record having the opportunity to lead the conservative caucus in Congress, the Republican Study Committee. I think I’ve shown that I care about limited government, constitutional government, and fiscal sanity,” he said.
He has, at times, been a thorn in the GOP leadership’s side for his constant push for fiscal conservatism. “I’ve also shown that I’m willing to stand up to my party leadership, as I did back when my leadership was in the majority, and said we couldn’t find any more savings in the government,” said Hensarling. “Along with Mike Pence and others, we led ‘operation offset,’ and put about $700 billion of savings on the table. That earned us a trip to the principal’s office.”
“Most recently, the press has claimed that I helped lead the fight against TARP and the bailout,” he said. “So, I try to work with our party. I try to serve my colleagues as I did at the Republican study committee, but hopefully I also have a record of showing I stand on principle, and if necessary I’ll have to go against the grain. That’s my record.”
Bachmann has become a national figure as a spokeswoman for the Tea Party movement. “I’ve had a great deal of experience and effectiveness, I believe, both on the national media front as well as on the local media front,” she said.
“I was an early strong voice trying to help raise up the Tea Party but then also gelling them, unifying them,” she said. She pointed out that she has “raised more money than any other member in the history of the United States Congress, primarily through small donations” for a candidate in this election cycle. Bachmann said that she had raised over $13 million in donations averaging $45 apiece. She said that she campaigned across the country and directly “supported 50 candidates coming in this year.”
She said that having her in a leadership position would “reflect the view of the Tea Party independents that gave us this majority.” She said that her “candidacy would demonstrate to the people that elected us that the Republican conference heard them. They believe in the independent Tea Party voice.”
Bachmann said that the most important lesson of the midterm elections is to have heard “a voice from the independents, who have taken a good look at House Republicans and believe we have what it takes to move forward, particularly on [the issue of] setting our economy in line.”
“We’ve been given a new lease on life as the Republican majority in the House, and so therefore I think it’s important that we chart a new course that reflects the views of the electorate on last Tuesday evening,” she said.
Hensarling is a member of the Republican leadership’s transition team, and has spent long hours this week in meetings. Asked about the new rules that will be proposed to the conference next week, he reflected on the voters’ message from the elections.
“I think most Republicans are sobered to the fact that the election was not so much an affirmation of us; it was a rejection of the President, the Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader,” he said.
“And part of the rejection of the Speaker is the iron-fist rule she waged. And I think for the first time in a very long time, Americans cared about the process. Having bills that nobody had an opportunity to read or understand. Closing off debate. Being scared of having the voices of the American people represented. Having a process that did not lend itself, frankly, to listening to the American people. So these are our challenges and we’re trying to learn from the recent past and the distant past,” he said.
Bachmann founded the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. She said that the “the Tea Party was a reaction to the overreach of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda,” but post-election, the goal was to institutionalize “the ideals of the Tea Party Caucus—which is reformulating our focus on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights—and to remain relevant and to remain sharp.”
To that end, she said she wants to “reformulate” the Tea Party Caucus as the ‘Constitutional Conservative Caucus.’ She wants to invite Supreme Court justices and legal experts to teach weekly classes on the principles of America’s founding. She would hold the classes “in the hour before we take our first votes of the week … as we are together, deliberating, pondering, formulating legislation and taking our vote.”
“Just like you see members of the NFL or the NBA practice to hone their skills, it’s important, I think, for members of Congress to continue to hone our skills, in what we take our oath and pledge to uphold, which is the Constitution,” she continued.
Hensarling has long pushed to end earmarks, a position that is being debated in the Republicans’ transition meeting as a potentially permanent rule in the House. He said that he believes that “we will end up hopefully with a continued moratorium on earmarks. There are some legitimate issues with how to handle certain Armed Services’ funding, certain transportation funding, but all in all, I’ve been one of the earmark crusaders in Congress.”
One week from today, the new House Republican Conference will vote to elect one of these two conservatives to serve as their Conference Chair. May the best man or woman win!