WASHINGTON — In pitching himself to his GOP colleagues to elect him House whip, Rep. Peter Roskam on Wednesday invoked the name of the late Illinois conservative icon Rep. Henry Hyde — the man Roskam succeeded — as he searches for the right-wing support he will need to win Thursday.
Emerging from a private meeting of House Republicans in the basement of the Capitol on Wednesday morning, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is backing Roskam, told me Roskam “spoke about Henry Hyde. He spoke about how [the whip job] sounds simple but this is an important post . . . and how he is committed to working with everyone.”
A source in the room told me Roskam said, in his appeal, that he understood the frustrations of members who consider the current House GOP leadership not “connected” to the base. Roskam told them — and this is a paraphrase — their priorities will be his priorities.
Roskam, elected from a west suburban Chicago district in 2006 after Hyde retired, is telling stories about Hyde — whose conservatism set the standard for others — to beat a rap on him: that he is not conservative enough.
On Friday, Roskam sent a letter to GOP House members, writing, “Henry redefined for generations what it means to be a principled conservative, scoring unparalleled victories on the most sacred of all issues we touch in our work here, the sanctity of human life.”
In any other context, Roskam’s conservative credentials would be impeccable, but in this insider contest where the House GOP right and its tea party movement activists exert tremendous sway, Roskam is pitted against rivals perceived as more conservative, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
“I’m working hard,” a shirt-sleeved Roskam told me from the ornate Capitol office he occupies by virtue of his appointed post as chief deputy whip, which makes him part of the House Republican leadership team.
The stakes are enormous for Roskam, as he seeks to become the No. 3 leader in House GOP ranks. He would follow Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is expected to win the House majority leader post on Thursday, creating the whip vacancy. All this was triggered by the surprise defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in the Virginia Republican primary. Cantor steps down on July 31.
If Roskam is beat on Thursday in the three-way contest, he also will certainly have to vacate that prime piece of first-floor Capitol real estate because the victor will most likely want to award the deputy plum to someone on his own team.
One possibility in this fluid whip race is that Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois GOP colleague, ends up as chief deputy because he is working hard for Scalise, who is seen as having the edge.
“It’s going to be close,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren. R-Ill., who is for Roskam.
Stutzman, a favorite of the tea party wing, is the wild card. Though the Scalise and Roskam camps tell me Stutzman does not have enough votes to win — he could force the balloting into a second round.
The balloting on Thursday is secret, and it takes 117 votes to win. That’s 51 percent of the 233 House GOP members. If no one clinches the 117 votes on the first ballot, there is a second vote, and Roskam’s forces see that as the path to victory.
As I’ve reported, Roskam has the backing of two of the five other Illinois House GOP members. Besides Schock, Scalise sources tell me Rep. John Shimkus, though he is not saying so in public, is in the Scalise camp — they room together in Washington. Hultgren and Rep. Rodney Davis are for Roskam.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger is keeping his preference private, telling me that he does not “see a purpose right now” in showing his hand.