‘Reinvigorating the leadership” is how one senior House staffer described the ascendency of Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who won a first-ballot victory for the position of GOP whip. The staffer went on to portray Scalise as not a member of the Washington establishment. Indeed, Scalise is a former chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the conservative caucus in the U.S. House. He has had a meteoric rise, and he is someone to be reckoned with.
Scalise’s win follows Kevin McCarthy’s first-ballot victory for the GOP majority-leader slot. And here’s something I did not know: As whip, Scalise gets to appoint his chief deputy whip, a leadership position most recently held by Illinois Republican Peter Roskam (who lost out to Scalise for majority whip). So it could be, when all is said and done, that two conservative RSC members are part of the GOP leadership.
And make no mistake about it, Steve Scalise is a genuine conservative. He was one of only 15 Republican House members to get a 100 percent voting designation by the American Conservative Union.
National Review contributor Quin Hillyer put it this way: “Scalise will be the most conservative GOP leadership member since Dick Armey.”
I had a chance to interview the newly elected whip just before he hustled out of his office to catch a plane to New Orleans. Scalise described himself as a pro-growth Republican who is in favor of tax reform that would lower marginal rates and simplify the code.
“I believe this would help generate an economic boom,” he told me.
Scalise also emphasized that he is completely against the redistributionist policies coming out of the White House, especially the minimum-wage hike, which he believes would do more harm than good. (On this point, I note that Wall Street Journal editorialist Jason Riley has just written a book, Please Stop Helping Us, in which he argues that minimum-wage increases over the past five decades have caused the black unemployment rate to roughly double the white rate.)
After speaking with Scalise, I don’t think there is any question that he is a Laffer-curve disciple who clearly understands the link between low tax rates and high economic growth. And when I asked him about corporate tax reform, he told me he’d like to eliminate the corporate tax altogether. Definitely my kind of guy.
Scalise also favors strict federal-government spending limits and opposes the Senate’s plan for a gas-tax hike. “The states should have much more responsibility for infrastructure building,” he said. “In fact, the existing Highway Trust Fund should be put back to the states where they can make their own priorities and take full responsibility.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Scalise is very skeptical about possible immigration reform. “I’m not for amnesty. People must play by the rules. And border enforcement must come first,” Scalise told me. He then added, “The president is not to be trusted on this.”
I have written many times that sensible immigration reform will be pro-growth in economic terms and pro-GOP politically. But I acknowledge that the current chaos of 60,000 children crossing the border into Texas, with no action from the White House (Obama so far refuses to call out the National Guard), is a catastrophe that is going to set back virtually all prospects for immigration reform — at least for this session of Congress.
Newly elected majority leader Kevin McCarthy favors immigration reform, as does Speaker John Boehner. And while I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, it sounds like Scalise will oppose that policy as majority whip.
He also may be very tough on upcoming appropriations bills. Scalise told me he had voted against the compromise budget deal put together by Republican congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic senator Patty Murray. What’s more, expect him to vote against reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank and any expansions for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In any event, Scalise’s rapid rise to power is making him a star. He is going to be a force. And as a representative of the Southern House Republicans and the Republican Study Committee, he is going to steer a conservative course that will move the center of gravity for the GOP House leadership at least a bit to the right.
To reference Quin Hillyer once more, Scalise also knows how to be a conservative “without being mad about it.” From my numerous interviews with him, I completely agree.
So besides sticking to his conservative principles, Scalise is likely to be an effective whip as well. In other words, Mr. Scalise’s upward path is nowhere near over.