Several House Republicans were livid Wednesday after learning that a staffer for a group of conservative lawmakers had coordinated with outside organizations to pressure undecided members to oppose House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to reduce the national debt.
The incident roiled an already fractured House Republican conference as leaders have been working to garner support for the Ohio Republican’s debt proposal, which is expected to face tough odds when it comes up for a vote Thursday.
The group at the center of the incident is the Republican Study Committee, which comprises more than 170 of the 240 members of the House Republican conference and is chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
A spokesman for the RSC said in a statement that a staffer had inappropriately coordinated with outside groups to pressure members on the upcoming debt-ceiling vote.
“Earlier this week, an RSC staffer sent an inappropriate e-mail to outside groups that identified members of Congress he believed were undecided on the debt reduction proposal offered by the Speaker,” RSC spokesman Brian Straessle said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “This action was clearly inappropriate and was not authorized by the Chairman or any other members of the staff. This has never been – and never will be – the way we do business at the RSC. We apologize to everyone affected, and we have already taken steps to ensure that it never happens again – either by this staffer or any other RSC staffer.”
Politico and Roll Call reported Wednesday afternoon that an RSC staffer sent an e-mail to outside conservative groups containing a list of undecided members that they could pressure to vote against the Boehner plan. According to a GOP aide, it was a junior staffer and not the committee’s top staff member, executive director Paul Teller, who sent the target list.
But at a Wednesday morning conference meeting, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) strongly criticized Teller, reading from an e-mail that Teller had allegedly written to outside activists complaining about the process by which the Boehner plan was being moved to the floor, Roll Call reported.
According to GOP aides, several members at the meeting were angry that their names had appeared on the “target list” and spoke out at the meeting, including Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Renee Ellmers (N.C.), Bill Flores (Texas) and Todd Young (Ind.). All are members of the RSC.
The RSC held a regularly scheduled meeting later Wednesday. After a motion by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) that the meeting be members-only, staffers left the room, according to a source who was present.
As he entered the RSC meeting, Flores said that he was angry at being targeted by a group to which he belonged.
“I think it’s offensive when a group that you’re a part of uses your bullets to shoot you with them,” he said. “So I have a problem with it.”
He said that the RSC chairman apologized to members that morning, but that “I think we need is we need him to reverse the damage.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), another RSC member, said that members “had a good family discussion” that morning. “And I’m sure we will continue.”
Several House GOP leaders are members of the RSC, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Even so, the group has butted heads with leadership before, such as in March, when Jordan announced that he would oppose a stopgap measure averting a government shutdown.
In May, the group unveiled its conditions for a debt-ceiling vote, a proposal that later evolved into the “cut, cap and balance” pledge now signed by 39 House Republicans. Leaders have declined to sign the pledge, arguing that since it requires Congress to send a balanced-budget amendment to the states before the debt ceiling can be raised, it could cede Republicans’ leverage to Democrats in the debt-limit debate.
When the House debated the fiscal year 2012 budget in April, the RSC was one of several groups that offered its own budget proposal. House Democrats tried to put conservatives on the spot through a procedural move that nearly allowed for the passage of the RSC budget – a more conservative version of the plan backed by House Republican. If House Republicans had been forced to pass the deeper cuts, it could have hurt some reelection campaigns. In the end, the Democratic effort fell short, although it did force Republican leaders to persuade some members to vote “no” and sink the RSC budget.