Idaho's Raul Labrador raises profile in failed bid for House leader

The Idaho lawmaker carried the banner for conservative members.


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Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador fell short Thursday in his campaign for the No. 2 leadership job in Congress. In a secret vote, the 233 Republicans elected California’s Kevin McCarthy to be majority leader, succeeding Eric Cantor. “I deeply believe that the dialogue we’ve sparked over the past week will lead to a stronger, more successful future for House Republicans and America,” Labrador said in a statement. He didn’t grant any interviews.

MELINA MARA — The Washington Post


    Speaker of the House

    The speaker is the presiding officer of the House and is generally considered the public face of the body. But he doesn't currently enjoy as much power of the chamber as the title suggests.

    John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has held the position since January 2011, when Republicans took control of the House. He succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    Despite being the presiding officer of the House, the speaker rarely leads floor debate from the Speaker's Rostrum and instead cedes those duties to a small group of members of his party. He or she also cedes most day-to-day operational control to the majority leader.

    The speaker does, however, set his party's legislative agenda and maintains several administrative duties, including swearing in new members, accepting the resignation of colleagues and controlling the House's budget. For example, he or she must approve taxpayer-funded congressional delegations that travel overseas.

    In consultation with the majority leader, the speaker also controls his party's steering committee, which determines the size and membership of various committees.

    The speaker is second in the presidential line of succession after the vice president, so he's always trailed by a security detail.

    Members of the House elect the speaker on the first day of a new two-year legislative session. Notably, the Constitution doesn't require that the speaker be a member of the House, but so far all speakers have been.

    The speaker's partisan counterpart is the House minority leader, who is Pelosi.

    Majority leader

    When is the House in session? Which bills will come to the floor? These are decisions for the majority leader.

    While second in command, the leader is responsible for key operational details of the House and also plays a key role in executing his party's legislative agenda. It's the leader who sets the House schedule, so credit or blame for long recesses - dubbed "district work periods" - goes to him.

    The leader isn't in the presidential line of succession but is assigned a security detail, mostly in case top congressional leaders need to be whisked away to a secure location in the event of a major disaster, as they were after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    The leader is elected by members of his party in a secret, closed-door meeting.

    House majority whip

    Is a bill going to pass? Who's going to vote for it? It's the job of the whip to know.

    If the speaker sets the legislative agenda and the majority leader lays out the game plan, it's the whip who ensures that legislation will pass. House Republican tradition dictates that no legislation is supposed to be brought to a vote unless a majority of the GOP conference plans to support it - but the edict has been violated in recent years.

    So how does the whip count votes? It's a complex process rooted in old-school techniques. The whipping is done on a member-to-member basis, with no aides, email or text messaging permitted.

    The whip oversees a team of dozens of deputy whips - the exact number is a closely guarded secret. Deputies are chosen to meet a variety of factors, including geography, political ideology and seniority.

    About a week before a key vote, the whip and his team fan out across the House floor with sheets of paper, instructing fellow Republicans to check one of five boxes indicating their position on a bill: yes, lean yes, undecided, lean no, no. The sheets are then compiled by aides, who put the answers in a database. Over the next few days, each member gets a follow-up with questions about his or her position.

    The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - For one exhausting week, Rep. Raul Labrador wore his game face for the insurgents in the House Republican Conference.

The congressman's bid to succeed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who suffered a stunning primary election loss and will soon vacate one of the most powerful political jobs in the nation's capital, was nothing short of audacious.

An upstart second-termer who was elected in the 2010 tea party wave that carried 87 new Republicans into the House of Representatives, Labrador hadn't been around long enough to even get to know all of his 232 colleagues.

On Thursday, House Republicans voted by secret ballot to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as their leader.

McCarthy is a key inside player, a trusted member of the party leadership who had Cantor's backing and whose political action committee had spread $2.3 million in campaign donations among Republican House candidates since 2010. He told reporters days ago that he had the 117 votes needed for victory.

But Labrador might walk away with political gains, too, not the least of which is to further raise a national profile that he's been cultivating as a favorite on Sunday TV news talk shows - a voice of a bloc of 60 to 80 disaffected House conservatives whose votes are vital for the party to pass legislation when it is opposed by Democrats.

"If you vote for the status quo," Labrador told his colleagues at a candidate forum Wednesday, "you will prove that we are still not listening. We will break our pledge and with that we may lose the ability to regain control of the Senate and eventually win the presidency."

As Speaker John Boehner led a triumphant McCarthy before a throng of reporters and television cameras Thursday after the vote, Labrador ducked out of a congressional hearing room where the balloting was conducted. He was nowhere to be found in two visits to his fifth-floor office in a back corner of the House Longworth Building.

His press spokesman, Todd Winer, said he would give no interviews Thursday.


In a statement, Labrador congratulated McCarthy and said that running this week was "amazing ... one of the best experiences I've had in Congress."

"I really enjoyed talking with my colleagues one-on-one about the future of our conference and the direction of our party," he said. "Everyone I spoke to, whether they voted for Kevin or me, agrees that we can do better."

He said he believes deeply that "the dialogue we've sparked over the past week will lead to a stronger, more successful future for House Republicans and America."

Freedom Works, a libertarian group that beckoned its 6.5 million members this week to urge their representatives to support Labrador, praised his "impressive performance," calling it "indicative of a growing liberty caucus that is ready to make . . . individual liberty and fiscal responsibility a priority in the House."

A 46-year-old Mormon who is the son of a single mom, Labrador spent 15 years as an immigration attorney. After spending four years in the Idaho House of Representatives representing an Eagle-area district, he ran for Congress in 2010 in the aftermath of the nation's financial crisis and captured Idaho's 1st Congressional District, one of the nation's most conservative.

He set himself apart almost from the moment he arrived on Capitol Hill, refusing to support Boehner's election as speaker. Since then he has taken staunchly conservative positions on fiscal issues, and was known to clash with McCarthy when the whip pressed for his votes.

But Labrador also was a member of a "group of eight" House and Senate members who made an ill-fated push for a compromise on immigration reform.

When Cantor lost last week, Labrador tried for three days to persuade veteran conservative Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Jim Jordan of Ohio to challenge McCarthy. When they declined, perhaps recognizing the long odds, he jumped in last Friday.

"I think it takes a lot of courage to step up," said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a good friend who urged Labrador to run.

At Wednesday's candidate forum, Labrador said he was "running not against anyone, but for everyone." He stressed that he wants all members "to feel they are relevant again."

Working until 11 p.m. in the weeklong race, he set a goal of dialing up every member of the Republican conference. But the Washington Examiner quoted other Republicans as saying that Labrador staffers had phoned seeking those members' cellphone numbers, suggesting that Labrador lacked relationships with many of them.

While he is not formally a member of the tea party caucus, which rarely meets, Labrador counted on support from the more active Liberty Caucus of about 24 to 30 of the party's most conservative House members. But his support for a guest worker program for agricultural workers cost him votes Thursday.

Massie, among a group of about 10 hard-core Republicans who volunteered to try to round up votes for him, said the ultraconservative wing has been disaffected in part because "things have been snuck through on a voice vote that wasn't announced."

He said most members had left the chamber and some were on airplanes when a motion to repeal part of the Stock Act, which banned insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs, passed by voice vote.

The irony, Massie contended, is that Boehner's position would have been "solidified" with Labrador as majority leader, "because I think you finally have that balance where the 80 most conservative members of the House, who don't feel represented in leadership, would be represented."

Instead, Labrador will remain a voice of the insurgency.

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