U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is going to have to work hard to move up from the No. 3 leadership post in the House to No. 2. One of his competitors in the race for majority leader picked up some key endorsements Monday (Sept. 28).
But the Republican from Jefferson is perfectly suited to this sort of challenge. Rep. Scalise was an underdog in his two previous leadership races.
In 2012, he pulled off an upset victory to become chair of the Republican Study Committee, the 176-member conservative caucus.
Then in 2014, he used the base he built running for that post to become majority whip, the No. 3 leadership position in the House. Before that vote, he gathered 50 supporters in a House committee room, played "Eye of the Tiger" on the loud speaker and marched to the GOP conference meeting.
He won on the first ballot.
He succeeded partly because of his conservative credentials. But he also won because of his strong personal relationships with House members. He is a likable guy who is willing to help out other members with their legislation and their campaigns. And he worked hard to lock down their support.
He is no doubt working with that same energy to pull together support for the majority leader post.
A win would be a great personal achievement for him, but having him in such an influential position also would benefit Louisiana. It has been more than four decades since the late Hale Boggs, a New Orleans Democrat, served as House majority leader.
This opening — like the one for whip in 2014 — was unexpected. House Speaker John Boehner's announcement Friday (Sept. 25) that he is stepping down was a surprise. Current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said Monday he would seek the speaker's job.
Rep. Scalise had already started working to become majority leader at that point. He reportedly worked the phones over the weekend and put together a team of House Republicans to help him lobby for the post.
His effort got more complicated Monday. One of his competitors, conservative Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., was endorsed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. They are influential House members.
But Rep. Scalise's competitor for the Republican Study Committee post had powerful backers as well. The group's founders and former chairman all backed his opponent for that position — but Rep. Scalise prevailed.
When he ran for whip, he beat out two other candidates — including one who was then the chief deputy whip.
He got good reviews after taking over that post. "I would suggest that conservative voices were rarely heeded, and now it seems we have a place at the table," Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said last fall. "I welcome that, and I am much more than pleased with the manner in which business has been conducted since Steve Scalise took the reins of the whip office."
Rep. Scalise since then has dealt with criticism after it was revealed that he spoke to members of a white supremacist group linked to David Duke in 2002 when he was a legislator. He acknowledged that the meeting was a mistake and said he regretted doing it. He also repeatedly has condemned the group's racist views.
His lapse in judgment was serious, but it shouldn't be used against him now.
Rep. Scalise stands out in Washington. He has strong partisan views, but he is skilled at building coalitions to get legislation passed and has meaningful friendships with colleagues across the aisle.
Those qualities are all too rare in Congress. And they ought to propel him into his next leadership role.