House Majority Whip Steve Scalise formally declared his bid for majority leader Tuesday as a handful of congressional conservatives swiftly moved to pull South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy into the race.
Gowdy, who continues to spearhead the high-profile investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email controversy and handling of Benghazi, sidestepped leadership calls by mid-afternoon despite a “Draft Gowdy” campaign brewing in the House.
“We have good, strong candidates, but Trey Gowdy is unique in his ability to bring the most conservative members together with the most moderate,” Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News Tuesday.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., threw his support behind Gowdy earlier in the day but later said after meeting with him it was “clear” he would not run for the position.
Shortly after, Gowdy’s office said his focus would remain on chairing the select Benghazi Committee through its investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
If Gowdy remains unconfirmed, Scalise will likely face Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., in what is expected to be a heated contest for the no. 2 leadership position following Speaker John Boehner’s resignation announcement.
In a letter hand-delivered to his Republican colleagues Monday night, Scalise emphasized party and chamber cohesion during a time when “our country and our conference are at a crossroads.”
“I understand from experience that unity is easy to call for, but it takes the right kind of leadership to achieve,” Scalise wrote.
“As both Republican Study Committee Chairman and Majority Whip, I’ve made it a top priority to bring openness and inclusiveness into the legislative process so we can bring our dynamic conference together as we advance our agenda,” he added.
The Louisiana congressman, who currently holds the GOP’s no. 3 post, was pinned as a natural successor for the leadership spot after current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced his candidacy to replace Boehner as speaker.
But Scalise’s rise faced a setback after Price secured heavy endorsements from Republican Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Jeb Hensarling of Texas—who waived his own leadership bid to throw his weight behind Price—Monday.
“Tom has a proven record of advancing conservative solutions and principles,” Ryan said in a statement. “He has the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective majority leader, and I’m proud to support him.”
Price positioned himself to Scalise’s right, calling for a status quo shakeup that advances “a smaller, more limited, more accountable government.”
“We have a real opportunity to spark a great American revival—where our nation is secure, government is limited, our people are prosperous and men and women are free,” Price wrote in an email to congressional Republicans Monday.
Price and Scalise sparred earlier this year during budget negotiations that pit Republican leadership against conservatives on the House Budget Committee.
Price, who chairs the committee, challenged pressure from GOP leaders in March to prop up defense funding without offsetting the spending elsewhere in the budget. He argued that any budget adding to the deficit would die on the House floor.
Scalise and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry circumvented Price to personally check the vote count with committee members in hopes that the provision would secure support from defense hawks, The Hill reported.
Scalise claimed he had the votes, but the amendment ultimately failed as Price had predicted, and Scalise’s unusual move to personally confirm votes brought tension with the committee’s conservative members.
Boehner said Tuesday he has not yet decided when leadership elections will take place, but he added that he “would hope to make an announcement in the next day or two about that.”