Former congressman and Libertarian-party presidential candidate Bob Barr, now locked in a tough four-way Republican primary for Georgia’s eleventh congressional district, is claiming Speaker John Boehner privately gave him a special blessing, roiling the state’s congressional delegation.
Barr’s campaign manager Jeff Breedlove tells National Review Online Boehner promised to help Barr get on the same committees he served on in a previous eight-year House term and that his seniority from that stint would carry over to now.
Promising committee assignments isn’t unheard of for Republican challengers taking on entrenched Democratic incumbents, but it’s highly unusual for someone in a GOP primary.
And skeptics note that it’s ultimately the secretive GOP steering committee which assigns new members to their committees, though Boehner’s role in the process is critical, too.
“It’s up to the steering committee, and Bob Barr left the party. And now he’s coming back, saying, ‘here I am, I want all my seniority and all back.’ You know, I don’t see the steering committee bending over backwards to accommodate him,” says a current Georgia congressman, who asked that his name not be used.
Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz said, “We don’t comment on the speaker’s conversations with members and candidates.”
Seniority for members who left Congress and are returning for a second stint is complicated. There’s the issue of which committees assignments he gets, his seniority on those committees, as well as his office location and other seniority-based perks.
“He would get his eight years of service, but when it came to [seniority on] committees, he would be behind any freshmen that have come in those eight years – he would be right behind them,” says Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.
Barr would get an informal leg up on committee assignments, Westmoreland said, but the decision would ultimately come down to the steering committee, a secretive panel of about 30 lawmakers which is stuffed with Boehner loyalists. The speaker’s role in steering-committee decisions can be pivotal, and there are even tales of Boehner overriding a vote on certain matters. But on other questions, he may not provide any input. It just depends.
Jeff Breedlove, Barr’s campaign manager, was clear that Boehner had privately assured Barr he would help him secure his previous committee assignments and said the former presidential candidate had also spoken privately with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who gave him the same assurances. “Both leaders confirmed . . . that he will be assigned to those committees with their support,” Breedlove says.
Breedlove is incensed that a sitting Georgia congressman would take anonymous shots at his boss’s campaign about the likelihood of Barr’s getting back his committee asignments, calling the comments the act of a “coward” and challenging the lawmaker to come to the monthly meeting of the Cobb County Republican party to talk over the matter face-to-face.
“If you’ve got something to say, own up to it like a man. Otherwise, quit playing politics,” Breedlove says.
A rival campaign, that of state-house majority whip Edward Lindsey, also took a shot at Barr for bragging about his seniority in the first place.
“If Bob Barr believes influence in Congress is about punching a time clock two decades ago, then he is part of the problem. Influence is about establishing and maintaining trust, respect and credibility. Barr’s quixotic political wanderings over the past dozen years — in search of personal celebrity while campaigning against Georgia Republicans, bolting from our party for supposed greener pastures, and attacking our core conservative values to satisfy his new friends — will not be forgotten,” says Lindsey campaign adviser Joel McElhannon.