In a statement Friday, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador said he will seek to succeed Rep. Eric Cantor as U.S. House majority leader following Cantor's loss in a Virginia primary election earlier this week.
He elaborated on why he's running for the post later Friday morning during an appearance with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in Boise. The pair were on their way to the 2014 GOP state convention in Moscow, where Paul will speak at a Friday banquet.
"We have a top-down approach in Washington, D.C., and I think our efforts should be to make sure the members of Congress can make a difference ... It's the leadership that makes every single decision and we as members of Congress just have to abide by what the leadership tells us to do. And I think this is why I'm doing it," Labrador said.
"The American people don't understand that we as Republicans believe in the little people. We are not the party of big special interests. We are not the party of big business. We're the party that believes if you work hard, if you play by the rules, if the government gets out of your way you can be successful and you can achieve the American Dream.
"And that's why I'm doing this. I want to remind the American people that we can be the shining city on a hill. And that America and grow and prosper. There's a lot of people in America that are suffering and I want us to do better."
During the brief press conference, Paul said he is "excited about what (Labrador is) doing. It think it's great for Idaho. I think it's also great for the grass roots in a sense.
"Everybody has their own idea of what message is being sent Washington about leadership. But to me it kind of is, maybe they want some new leadership from new faces — new people that haven't been in Washington so long but are part of and connected to the grass roots. I'm excited by it."
A BUZZ THURSDAY
Sites such as Politico and Roll Call had reported Thursday that Labrador — in his second term — might emerge as the tea party alternative to the favorite to replace Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. Friday, his challenge to McCarthy was being described as an uphill battle and in some cases, as symbolic.
Labrador had declined comment to the Statesman Thursday as he boarded a plane to Idaho from Washington, D.C., to accompany Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to his speech Friday at the Idaho Republican convention.
Speculation also flew on Twitter, where Labrador campaign aide China Gum retweeted a series of posts Thursday. Among them were this from Jake Sherman of Politico: “R(epublican)s now chattering about RAUL LABRADOR taking on McCarthy for majority leader.” Sherman reported that Labrador was making calls to test support.
Idaho’s other Republican congressman, Mike Simpson, said Thursday that “I’ve got no problem with Raul looking at it and seeing if he has an opportunity there. We’ll see.”
A close ally of Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Simpson said Thursday that he’s supporting McCarthy. “Kevin has done a good job as whip and I don’t think at this point — in June of an election year — that we need wholesale change,” Simpson said.
After Labrador's announcement Friday, Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the congressman will honor his commitment to McCarthy.
The election will be held in the GOP conference June 19.
BREAKING THE MOLD
Labrador, 46, hasn’t let conventional thinking stand in his way before.
He entered the 2010 congressional race late, but easily upset establishment candidate Vaughn Ward to win the GOP nomination and then unseated Democrat Walt Minnick. Ward was backed by Cantor, McCarthy and Boehner, but after Labrador won the primary, he got leadership’s backing.
Cantor raised money for Labrador on a visit to Boise in October 2012, visited Micron Technology and touted Labrador as a leader on immigration reform on par with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Labrador then snubbed Boehner, withholding his vote for speaker in January 2013, prompting a war of words with Simpson.
Boehner returned the favor eight months later, poking fun at Labrador for attending a Simpson fundraiser in Boise. Labrador was neutral in Simpson’s big primary win over tea party candidate Bryan Smith.
Labrador said Friday that a colleague encouraged him to run, saying, "'Whether you win or lose, I'm excited that you're getting in because 90 percent of us feel like we don't make a difference here in Washington.'
He also responded to some of the early characterization of him entering the race, saying, "I don't get into political fights unless I have a plan. I didn't get into this thing just to send a message, I got into this to win.
"I actually spent the last three days trying to convince (Rep.) Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and (Rep.) Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to do this. So this isn't something that I wanted to do. They wouldn't step up. I decided that somebody needed to do it."
Acknowledging that Hensarling, Jordan and Rep. Pete Session, R-Texas, took a pass because McCarthy is widely expected to win, Labrador said, "I think I've had some experiences with heavy favorites before."
And, he said he doesn't see himself as the tea party alternative to McCarthy.
"Tea party is just a label; I think tea party is a movement. I consider myself the conservative alternative. I want to speak to the passions and the issues that every day Americans feel in their lives. I want to talk to them directly and I think the American people are looking for that. They're looking for somebody who actually believes in them. Where it's not just about what we're doing in the conference or what we're doing for big business, it's about every day Americans."
Political scientist Jim Weatherby said however unlikely it might seem for a junior lawmaker to take down the No. 3 Republican in the House, predicting what Labrador might do isn’t easy.
“It’s not likely that this young guy who comes out of nowhere is being speculated about for leadership, either,” Weatherby said. “But his name immediately came to mind” inside the Washington Beltway after the Cantor loss.
Were Labrador to become leader and set the legislative calendar, it’s not clear how that might impact Idaho. Labrador has favored big cuts in federal programs, including at the Idaho National Lab. “We have a number of politicians who don’t find it virtuous to bring home the bacon anymore,” Weatherby said.
SIMPSON STILL FRYING
In his 16th year in the House, Simpson has made funding INL, farm and military programs central to his work. He’s skipping the GOP convention that Labrador will chair for a weekend of work on the energy and water spending bill.
As one of 12 Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, he’ll shepherd the bill through the full committee next week. “I really like where I am right now,” Simpson said. “It’s fun, it’s exciting and I’m able to do some good things for Idaho.”
If Simpson, 63, defeats former Democratic Rep. Richard Stallings in November, he’ll return to Washington as the No. 5 Republican on Appropriations — thanks to two retirements and a Senate candidacy.
Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky will be term-limited as chairman after the next Congress, moving Simpson to No. 4, or better, in 2017.
“It used to be that to be in a position to maybe one day chair the full committee you had to have been in Congress 25 or 30 years,” Simpson said. “I’m kind of amazed at how fast I’ve moved up.”
Simpson said Cantor’s defeat by Dave Brat — who was outspent about 25-to-1 — will embolden the tea party wing.
“I suspect you’re going to see this struggle within the Republican Party continuing for the next few election cycles,” Simpson said. “But it’s a healthy struggle, so I’m not upset about it.”
Simpson said his chat with Labrador before news on Cantor was a “good conversation.”
“Our goals are the same, we want fiscal sanity,” Simpson said. “The difference between establishment and tea party Republicans is how do you get there.”