WASHINGTON — There were multiple factors in the defeat of Illinois’ Peter Roskam at the hands of a Louisiana lawmaker in his bid Thursday for the GOP’s third-ranking job in the House of Representatives.
Southern lawmakers were keen for a seat at the leadership table after last week’s stunning primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who had been the House majority leader, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican behind House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
The Republicans who cast secret ballots and favored Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana over Roskam also appeared to be signaling approval of Scalise’s leadership of a large bloc of conservatives known as the Republican Study Committee.
In addition, Scalise assembled an energetic team of supporters, including one of Roskam’s Illinois colleagues, Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria, who could see his fortunes rise as a result.
Even invoking God’s name before the balloting couldn’t tip the balance for Roskam.
When Roskam’s supporters met with him for a final discussion, one backer, Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi, read a verse from the Bible, Proverbs 21:31. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”
Another Roskam backer, Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan, offered a prayer.
Then the group headed into the balloting as a small army of press stood by.
Roskam lost on the first ballot, meaning Scalise captured at least 117 lawmakers in the 233-member GOP Conference. The Illinoisan had been banking on a second round of balloting to capture support from the third-place finisher. The third candidate was Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, but with no vote count released, it’s not clear who came in second and third.
In the race to replace Cantor as majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California prevailed, as expected.
After Roskam’s defeat, he huddled with aides in his locked office in the Cannon Building and in a statement, congratulated Scalise.
Three flags are outside Roskam’s office: the U.S. flag, the Illinois state flag and the “DONT TREAD ON ME” yellow flag featuring a coiled snake. The last dates to the American Revolution and has found favor with tea party adherents.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate Steve on his election,” Roskam’s statement said. “He ran a great race and I look forward to working together to achieve conservative policy wins that improve the lives of the American people.”
Roskam, 52, a Wheaton lawyer and former state lawmaker, entered the House in 2007 and now holds the No. 4 job as chief deputy whip. There was speculation that Schock might be appointed as the new chief deputy whip as reward for supporting Scalise.
When asked before the vote if he wanted the No. 4 post, Schock said: “I’m not campaigning for anything other than to get (Scalise) elected.”
The new leaders will assume their posts after Cantor steps down as majority leader at the end of July. He’ll keep his House seat until the new Congress meets in January.
Roskam’s bid for whip had the public support of two other Illinoisans: Reps. Randy Hultgren of west suburban Winfield and Rodney Davis of Taylorville. Two other Illinoisans withheld a public endorsement: Reps. John Shimkus of Collinsville and Adam Kinzinger of Channahon.
Shimkus, who owns a D.C. townhouse and has Scalise among his tenants, walked in with Scalise and his approximately 50 “whips,” or supporters, according to Scalise’s spokesman, T. J. Tatum. It seemed to signal that Shimkus was with Scalise.
Roskam had drawn support from Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who made calls on his behalf. Kirk, though, had no vote in the election.
In January, Kirk talked about Roskam having the potential to rise to the chamber’s top job, House speaker. There was talk that Kirk’s persuasion campaign to keep Roskam in House leadership was a way to stave off a potential challenge from him if Kirk seeks a second term in 2016. But Davis, who backed Roskam, dismissed that Thursday as “hogwash.”
The whip’s job involves helping script the party’s message and wrangling the votes to pass legislation. It gained cachet because it was the job held by Kevin Spacey’s character in the inaugural season of the darkly themed TV series “House of Cards,” which centers around cut-throat Washington politics.
Michael A. Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed.
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