A North Texan’s name is on a list of possible successors to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who may step down after November’s election: Rep Jeb Hensarling of Dallas.
In an elected body of 435, it’s not easy to rise to the top. But Hensarling, who’s 57, has done just that. With some Republicans looking for an alternative to Boehner, Hensarling’s name is near the top of some people’s short lists.
It’s something the six-term congressman shrugged off when recently asked about it at the Heritage Foundation.
"It's not something I've aspired to,” he said at the foundation. “It's not something I'm thinking about. It's not something I am working on. I see no reason whatsoever why it is in the interest of the Republican Party or the conservative movement to really be thinking about leadership races."
On Wednesday, Hensarling's office released a statement: “I am humbled by the many people who have approached me about serving our Republican Conference in a different capacity in the future. There are many ways to advance the causes of freedom and free enterprise, and I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve in those efforts.”
Darling of conservative groups
Hensarling is a darling of conservative groups, which praise him for not giving in to Democrats’ demands for more spending . He was a co-chair of the so-called Super Committee that tried to find an alternative to those across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.
Hensarling currently chairs the powerful financial services committee, which deals with everything from banks to overseas markets.
Congressman Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican, says Hensarling isn’t just a tough negotiator; he’s an ideas man.
“The leadership that Jeb Hensarling has provided for years, not just to our common causes of conservative issues, but really about leading on ideas, is powerful,” Sessions said.
'Texas has had some good speakers'
Texans would like the state to regain a seat at the head table in Washington. Republican Congressman Joe Barton from Ennis says there’s a long line of Texas power brokers in D.C. – a tradition Hensarling could fit into.
“Texas has had some good speakers – Sam Rayburn, John Nance Garner; two majority leaders, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey,” Barton said. “We’re a big state and we, traditionally regardless of which party’s in power, have somebody in leadership from our state.”
There’s growing frustration in some wings of the GOP with Boehner and his leadership team, which includes Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. On Tuesday, Cantor lost his re-election bid after a tea party-backed challenger defeated him in the primary election.
But Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp, a tea party conservative, likes the way Hensarling operates. Huelskamp has had a few run-ins with Boehner and says someone like Hensarling represents conservative principles better than today’s Republican leaders.
“Clearly the establishment’s running the leadership here, and I think that is wrong on a couple of counts,” Huelskamp said. “I think it’s bad policy. And one, it lacks integrity because every one of these leaders, nearly one of them, they all ran as conservatives. All we’re saying, people can agree and disagree on where we head on those principles, but what we see is here an abdication of those conservative principles.”
Running for Henderson County commissioner?
Hensarling’s not saying yes or no – to anything, really, whether it’s a run for speaker or even a run for local dog catcher.
"I'm not sure there's any opportunity I want to foreclose,” Hensarling said at the Heritage Foundation. “I have a small property in rural east Texas in Henderson County. I may want to run for county commissioner in Henderson County one day. It's not something I'm thinking about. It's not something I'm working on at the moment."
Members of the Texas delegation say Hensarling may not want the job because he has two young children. But there's growing speculation that Boehner won't want to deal with a conference that's repeatedly spurned him when he's sought compromises with the White House.
If he drops out, there may be a window for Hensarling to step up and that could give the Lone Star state another in a long line of Washington power brokers.
Update, Wednesday morning: Since this story aired on KERA 90.1 FM, Hensarling's office released the following statement:
"Eric Cantor is a friend and ally on many fronts. He was, is, and will continue to be a good leader and servant for his district and our nation, and I am grateful for his service. While one chapter will ultimately close for him, I know that Eric will continue to work to advance the cause of freedom.
“I am humbled by the many people who have approached me about serving our Republican Conference in a different capacity in the future. There are many ways to advance the causes of freedom and free enterprise, and I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve in those efforts.”