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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Steve Scalise and the Butterfly Effect

Posted By on Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 12:42 AM

The well-worn meme that a butterfly flapping its wings in the rain forest causes a tsunami on the other side of the planet may or may not be true in nature, but it often holds true in politics. Just ask Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.

Scalise is currently considered a frontrunner for the House Majority Whip position, thanks to GOP voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. This past week, those voters dumped Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the second-highest ranking Republican in the House, in favor of a little-known economics professor who spent a small fraction of the millions that Cantor and his supporters poured into the primary.

If you’re wondering, the name of the butterfly in this story is David Brat, a 49-year-old professor at Randolph-Macon College.

The day after Brat upset Cantor in Virginia’s primary, Cantor announced he would step down as Majority Leader on July 31. That triggers a race for his successor, and the clear frontrunner is the current Majority Whip, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. If McCarthy runs for Majority Leader, as expected, it opens a race for Whip, and that’s where Scalise enters the picture.

GOP House members, who currently hold a majority, will meet behind closed doors on Thursday, June 19, to elect their new leaders. That vote could have profound implications for Louisiana if Scalise wins the No. 3 spot in the House.

Scalise released a statement in which he said moving the country forward “will require effective leadership and the ability to unite the Republican conference around bold conservative solutions. The job of Whip is more than just a vote counter. I have a strong record of bringing substantive policy ideas to the leadership table and building coalitions to address problems and unite our conference.”

Scalise’s chances are not far-fetched. He faces several rivals, but his credentials stack up well against theirs. For the past 18 months, Scalise has chaired the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group of more than 170 conservative GOP House members, and he spent the last election cycle recruiting and fundraising for new Republican congressional candidates. That kind of work pays dividends in situations such as this.

Moreover, the RSC comprises more than 70 percent of the Republican caucus. That appears to give Scalise a real edge. One of his rivals for Whip, however, is also a member of the RSC — Indiana U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman. Also running is Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Illinois. Even if he does not win the Whip post, Scalise is widely seen as a rising star in the GOP-controlled House.

Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District ranks among the safest in Congress, and Scalise’s predecessors in the job have included some influential figures. The late F. Edward Hebert chaired the House Armed Services Committee in the 1970s, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston was tapped to be House Speaker before a Clinton-era sex scandal prompted his resignation in 1999.

We’ll know in a few days if the Butterfly Effect brought on by Cantor’s unlikely defeat will propel Scalise into the tsunami that is Washington’s inner circle. One thing he might want to bear in mind as he campaigns for Whip: The Butterfly Effect has its origins in something called chaos theory. Having spent the last five-plus years inside the Beltway, Scalise should be more than ready to cross that threshold.

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