With role on key committee, Stivers’ star on the rise

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U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers checks out the starting stages of one of the rehab projects going on at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in January 2013. Stivers, whose district includes part of Ross County, is rising in Congress because of his spot on the House Rules Committee.(Photo: Gannett Ohio File Photo)

WASHINGTON – When Rep. Steve Stivers begins his third term in the House next month, the Columbus Republican will have a new spot at the center of the legislative action.

That’s because GOP leaders, in a surprise move, awarded Stivers a seat on the powerful House Rules Committee in the 114th Congress. The panel sets the terms of debate for nearly every piece of legislation that goes to the House floor and decides which amendments, if any, will receive a vote.

Also known as “the speaker’s committee,” it’s how the House speaker controls a bill’s fate.

Stivers’ new assignment, announced in mid-December, comes after he was tapped for a second stint in the GOP leadership, as a deputy to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

As a member of Scalise’s “whip team,” Stivers is one of a half-dozen lawmakers charged with making sure GOP leaders have enough votes to get their legislative priorities passed in the House.

The two positions will be “a very powerful combination,” said former GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce, who represented Ohio’s 15th district for 16 years before retiring in 2009. Stivers, she said, will be “right in the middle of everything.”

Stivers said he had been pursuing a spot on the House Budget Committee but switched gears when House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, asked him whether he would fill an opening on the Rules Committee instead.

“It’s a chance to really influence the process,” said Stivers, a soldier who serves in the Ohio Army National Guard and whose district includes Morgan and Perry counties. He said he’ll be involved in every major issue that comes before the House — including health care, tax policy and national security.

Others echoed that assessment and said Stivers’ elevated role is a sign he’s become one of Boehner’s most trusted allies.

“It’s a reflection of confidence from leadership,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a centrist Washington think tank.

Kara Hauck, a spokeswoman for Boehner, said he sees Stivers as a “leader who works hard to get the job done, and the speaker looks forward to having him serve in this new role.”

Stivers has long been on Boehner’s radar. When Pryce announced her retirement in 2008, Boehner recruited Stivers, then a state lawmaker, to run for the open seat.

Stivers narrowly lost that race to Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. But he tried again in 2010, again at Boehner’s urging, and won the rematch.

Raised in Ripley, Stivers is a garrulous, well-liked lawmaker with a relatively moderate voting record. He earned a 57 percent conservative score in 2013 from The National Journal, a nonpartisan Washington magazine that analyzes key votes.

Dubbed a “rising GOP star” by some political pundits, Stivers also has a reputation as a Boehner loyalist, sticking by the speaker as he dealt with conservative revolts and tea party attacks. Stivers voted with GOP leaders 92 percent of the time in the 113th Congress, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Conservatives, however, might not be so smitten with him. The Club for Growth, a right-leaning advocacy group, gave Stivers a 56 percent score for his votes in 2013. That’s well below other central Ohio Republicans such as Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who scored 97 percent.

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller declined to comment on Stivers’ votes or his leadership ties, saying his scorecard “speaks for itself.”

Given his longtime friendship with Boehner, it’s no surprise Stivers is starting his third term with a seat at the leadership table. It comes at a critical moment for the GOP, with Boehner and other leaders desperate to prove they can govern and break the gridlock that has paralyzed Congress.

“I hope to be able to actually make a difference,” Stivers said. “It’s been really frustrating to be in Congress the last four years.”

In his role on the whip team, Stivers is charged with finding out how Republicans are going to vote on key bills and stamping out any opposition before the legislation hits the floor.

“He’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Scalise said. “Steve is one of those guys, he sets his mind to it and goes and get things done. I’ve always wanted him on my team (for) anything I’ve done.”

On the Rules Committee, Stivers faces a different challenge — fielding pleas from colleagues for votes on their provisions.

“An awful lot of members from both parties who want amendments come to you, and you can help them or not help them,” Ornstein said.

At the same time, Stivers will be under pressure from GOP leaders who want to avoid contentious votes and drawn-out floor fights.

Stivers said he knows he’ll face competing demands. He said he’ll use the committee post to focus on “what’s right for the bill and what’s right for America and what can pass.”

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