Speaker’s Choice for Key House Committee Sparks Backlash

Speaker's Choice for Key House Committee Sparks Backlash

Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Georgia who has criticized conservatives and is campaigning actively against the House Freedom Caucus chairman, is Speaker Mike Johnson’s choice for a newly vacant seat on the powerful Rules Committee.

Scott’s selection Wednesday infuriated conservatives on Capitol Hill. The Daily Signal spoke with several lawmakers and staffers whose reactions ranged from shock to disappointment that Johnson, R-La., would pick someone who is openly trying to unseat one of the House’s most prominent conservatives.

“This the wrong person for the wrong role at the wrong time,” a Republican member of Congress told The Daily Signal.

By picking Scott for the Rules Committee, one of the oldest and most powerful in the House of Representatives, Johnson revealed whom he trusts to determine floor activity and advance the speaker’s agenda.

“It’s hard to see Johnson’s move here as anything except needing an attack dog against conservatives,” said a former Republican staffer, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “You get the impression he’s going to use Austin Scott to help as a blockade on the Rules Committee and throughout the [Republican] conference. That’s the signal it sends.”

Johnson’s staff acknowledged The Daily Signal’s request for comment, but did not provide a response.

Critical of Conservatives

Scott, a close ally of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sought the speaker’s job in October in an ill-fated run against Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

At the time of McCarthy’s ouster as speaker, Scott issued a statement calling the eight members who voted to remove McCarthy “nothing more than grifters who have handed control of the House to the Democratic Party in the name of their own glory and fundraising.”

Scott continued, “There is nothing principled about what they did, and Republican leadership will have to decide to either hold these members accountable or lose the faith of the rest of the conference.”

Months later, he took aim at one of the eight in particular: Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. Scott donated to Good’s primary challenger, John McGuire, in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Last month, Scott was a featured guest at a McGuire fundraiser.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., speaks with reporters following a House Republicans caucus meeting on Oct. 23, 2023. Scott is Speaker Mike Johnson’s choice for a vacant seat on the powerful House Rules Committee. (Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images)

Despite Scott’s actions, Johnson handpicked him for a coveted seat on the powerful Rules Committee.

“Speaker Johnson keeps saying, ‘We’re on the same team, knock it off, please stop this.’ But he’s not actually doing anything to stop it,” a Republican staffer told The Daily Signal. “Now, Austin Scott, one of the guys who started this civil war on the primary campaign trail, is put on the Rules Committee. The speaker isn’t ending the war, he’s escalating it by rewarding people going after conservatives.”

And while Scott’s public actions have revealed his contempt for conservatives, lawmakers and staff said he is even more hostile to them in private settings.

“He’s got a short fuse and a hot temper,” another Republican member said of Scott. “Quite honestly, he doesn’t have the temperament to be a legislator.”

Scott’s communications director declined to make him available for an interview with The Daily Signal and instead pointed to his brief statement on X.

The Speaker’s Committee

Known as the “speaker’s committee,” the Rules Committee includes nine Republicans and four Democrats. One of those seats became vacant this week when Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., won the gavel for the House Appropriations Committee.

Two members of the House Freedom Caucus—Reps. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and Chip Roy, R-Texas—currently serve on the Rules Committee with another conservative-leaning member, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. Their three votes, combined with four Democrats, are enough to sink the speaker’s plans.

Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., convenes a meeting alongside ranking member Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., on Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After years of being shut out of the Rules Committee—and any semblance of negotiation over its membership—conservatives scored seats on the panel as part of a deal with McCarthy, resulting in his election to speaker in January 2023.

Unlike when McCarthy negotiated with members, Johnson instead moved swiftly without consulting conservatives about Scott’s selection.

“It is the speaker’s committee, and he can do whatever he wants with it. But in a one-seat majority, there should be a conversation,” a GOP staffer told The Daily Signal. “You talk to people about who’s interested, who might be a good fit, who might be a productive addition on the Rules Committee.”

A former Republican staffer described it as a curious move on Johnson’s part.

“You already have conservatives angry at you for a variety of reasons,” the former staffer said. “You have a one-seat majority. You have a pending motion to vacate [the speaker]. It’s not exactly the time to poke the bear.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., filed a motion to vacate March 22, but has not yet forced a vote. If it’s successful, Johnson would lose the speaker’s job, just as McCarthy did before him.

“Speaker Johnson lives in peril every day for his job depending on what he does,” a Republican member said. “It’s a dicey situation. It appears to me that there are other candidates who are interested in being speaker in the new term.”

GOP Civil War

Since joining Congress in 2011, Scott has focused his attention on serving the rural Georgia district he represents. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Agriculture Committee. He has a lifetime score of 77% on Heritage Action’s Scorecard.

Scott also has developed a reputation among conservatives on Capitol Hill, according to lawmakers and staff who spoke to The Daily Signal.

“Austin Scott is a hothead, a notorious hothead,” a Republican staffer said. “He frequently loses his temper inside conference meetings with other members. He’s threatened, berated, cursed out members.”

Scott’s decision to endorse Good’s primary opponent, therefore, didn’t necessarily come as a surprise. However, it did anger conservatives, particularly because Johnson has privately counseled GOP members not to engage in primaries between fellow Republicans. The speaker recently made another appeal at GOP lawmakers’ retreat last month in West Virginia.

“Austin Scott endorsed Bob Good’s primary challenger, attended a fundraiser with him,” a Republican staffer said. “Mike Johnson, repeatedly for several weeks, has lectured the conference about what he calls the hot war on the campaign trail with primaries against incumbent Republicans. The moderates started this by going after Bob Good.”

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, is facing a GOP challenger in his June 18 primary election. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Good, who boasts a 99% lifetime score on Heritage Action’s Scorecard, joined the House in 2021 after knocking off an incumbent Republican. He took over as chairman of the House Freedom Caucus in January.

Scott is one of at least six House Republicans who are backing Good’s opponent. Others include House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Reps. Jen Kiggans, R-Va.; Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.; Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis.; and Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas.

“Conservatives were appealing to the speaker to end the civil war before it got out of hand,” a Republican member told The Daily Signal. “And when he refused to, we let everyone know that we’re not going to take all the casualties.”

That’s led some conservative members to make their own endorsements against moderate Republicans.

Good, for example, is backing GOP challenger Derrick Evans in West Virginia’s 1st District against incumbent Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., a leader of the moderate Republican Main Street Caucus. Its affiliated PAC, the Republican Main Street Partnership, is actively spending money against Good.

Notably, Johnson has withheld his own endorsement from Good, whose primary election is June 18. A spokesman for the speaker’s political operation did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.