The House Republican Conference is scheduled to select its candidate for speaker Thursday to replace John Boehner, who’s leaving Congress at the end of the month. The rifts in the Republican Party that led to Boehner's departure are reflected in the thinking of House Republicans from Missouri and Illinois.
Boehner announced his intention to step down, in part, after being unable to persuade members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to back a stop-gap spending bill that also contained an extension of funding for Planned Parenthood. Boehner then passed the bill with support from a majority of House Democrats.
Last week, House Republicans held a closed-door meeting to air their differences and begin the process of considering their agenda and the makeup of their new leadership team.
St. Louis Public Radio spoke with several House Republicans from Missouri and Illinois about the divide that prompted Boehner’s decision to step down and what they are looking for in a new leader.
Congresswoman Ann Wagner of Ballwin says she’s looking for a leader who will unify the conference and advance “strong, conservative legislation.'
"We're also going to want the leadership that is going to speak on our behalf, to go out there and get much more aggressive when it comes to the media and talk about what it is that we’re doing,” Wagner said.
She points to the 346 bills the House has passed to show that Republicans are making progress on a wide variety of issues, but she’s critical of the Senate where most of those bills have languished.
Unlike the House, where the rules favor the majority party, in the Senate the rules protect the minority party and encourage compromise. Senate Republicans have 54 members, short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Senate Democrats' ability to block bills they oppose. Wagner sys it’s time Senate leadership stop worrying about “history and the institution” and find a way to move bills.
Even the newest member of the House, Illinois’ Darin LaHood of Peoria, says House Republicans have not “led enough” with their majority and have at times been more “reactive than proactive.” He says Republicans need to be “proud of their conservative principles,” and lay out a “clear vision and road map for how we can change things in this country, how we convince people that we have the right ideas. I don’t think we’ve done enough of that.”
Missouri Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, says the new leadership team will have to work to “heal some of the wounds” in the Republican Conference.
“I think everybody needs to have their voice heard from the standpoint that it’s not one person or one group that should drive our majority. I think we need to all work together for a common goal of figuring out how we can move the country forward and solve the issues that are in front of us as a group,” Luetkemeyer said.
Congressman Mike Bost of Murphysboro, Illinois, says Republicans must find a way to work together.
“We can be divided and the next time we can be in the minority, now that’s a reality,” Bost said.
Bost believes Republicans need to find “common ground” on such issues as “less government, better government” and their belief in government spending less. He says once they do that, then they can work on finding common ground on “hot-button issues” that are dividing the conference.
Congressman Peter Roskam, R-Hinsdale, is from the western suburbs of Chicago and organized last week's meeting of House Republicans. He says conservative constituents he hears from want Congressional leaders to fight for their issues rather than “presume we’re going to lose something and reverse engineer from the presumption of a loss, that’s not good enough.”
“There’s an inability… for many people across the country to hear an incremental win as a victory, when they feel as if you didn’t try for everything.” Roskam says members of the Freedom Caucus are looking for a “shared definition of success and we don’t have that right now.”
Representative John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, hopes Republicans remember that “compromise is not a dirty word.”
Shimkus keeps a photo of Ronald Reagan on the shelf behind his desk, and is quick to appeal to Republicans with Reagan’s adage that "80 percent of a deal, is a pretty good deal.” He says members of the Freedom Caucus only want 100 percent and have not been willing to compromise on their issues.
Shimkus said he’d like to see the Republican Conference adopt Reagan’s approach to finding compromise to advance its agenda. “If we’re on the same sheet of music then we can get anything done, for the most part, but if we can’t be united, we’re lucky if we get fifty percent.”
It will take 124 votes in the Republican Conference to select a candidate for speaker, but it will take 218 votes in a vote by the full House at the end of the month to elect him or her. If the Freedom Caucus opposes the choice of a majority of the Republican Conference and votes as a block at the end of the month, it could disrupt that election.