WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Tom Price, a key conservative in the House and favorite of outside conservative activists, rejected an offer from Speaker John Boehner under which Price would drop his bid for elected leadership in return for a ceremonial spot at the table — so long as he swore fealty to Boehner’s speakership.
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Boehner approached the Georgia Republican with the offer hoping to circumvent an ugly fight between Price and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers over chairmanship of the House Republican Conference.
McMorris Rodgers, a key surrogate for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid, is favored by leadership. But Price has the backing of conservatives both within the conference and the broader movement, and his bid has threatened to turn the race ugly.
According to these sources, Boehner offered to make Price chairman of the Elected Leadership Council, the group of GOP leaders that runs the party in the House. The chairmanship carries prestige, but is not elected and is largely ceremonial since Boehner is in charge of the party.
But Boehner’s proposal came with a catch — Price would have to swear loyalty to leadership and promise not to break with them over the next two years.
Under normal circumstances, that might not have been not be a bridge too far: House Republicans are generally a conservative group and leadership has typically deferred to their more rightward leanings when they can.
But with the fiscal cliff, a debt ceiling fight and a more fundamental identity crisis going on in the wake of Tuesday’s election — and with Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate — Boehner appears to be preparing to to marshal his troops behind some painful compromises in the coming months.
According to the sources familiar with the situation, Price asked Boehner for time to think about the offer, which Boehner agreed to. The next day, Price rejected the offer.
Shortly thereafter, Reps. Mike Pence and Jeb Hensarling, two of the most influential conservatives in the House, penned a “Dear Colleague” letter to Republicans endorsing Price’s bid for conference chair in an effort to demonstrate his influence.
Boehner has at times struggled to keep his conservative wing in line during his two year speakership. For instance, during 2011’s debt ceiling fight, he stiff opposition from Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, and rank and file members ultimately sought to oust Jordan’s top staffer as a result of the fight.
A spokesman for Price declined to comment, as did a Boehner spokesman.