Earlier this week, after the morning meeting of House Republicans, I found myself deep in a three-way conversation with California Rep. Tom McClintock and another reporter. The reporter’s questions were well-researched and dogged, ranging from previous House offers to entitlement reform to what “default” really meant for what the Senate might do next.
McClintock, a former candidate for governor of California, has plenty of question-dodging experience and proved to be a master evader, turning every question back to how “the House and the Senate are designed to come to independent judgments.” It felt a little useless, but I didn’t realize how useless it must have been to my colleague until McClintock left. At that moment the reporter who’d just pressed this congressman with at least 11 questions turned to me and asked: “Who was that?”
I tell this story not to disparage someone. Days earlier, I’d asked a colleague the exact same question after quizzing a white-haired, middle-aged Republican congressman with a Southern accent. (Hello, Rep. Mo Brooks.) The current House Republican majority, the 232 people who run half the Congress, is mostly male, mostly middle-aged, and mostly white, making it sometimes impossibly hard to differentiate one member from another.
That is one of the many reasons that the press corps—and readers, surely—have so much trouble identifying who really matters as the shutdown drags on. The Atlantic tried to identify “32 Republicans who caused the shutdown,” admitted it wasn’t “a comprehensive roll,” and then came back with a viral feature that has influenced how thousands of Facebook-using liberals now view the crisis. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York confidently cited “insiders” who insist that “about 30 House Republicans” backed the party into the defund Obamacare cul-de-sac. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza identified the 80 signatories of Rep. Mark Meadows’ defund-Obamacare letter as the “suicide caucus.” In an interview with Barney Frank, the New Republic referred to the holdouts in Congress as “these faceless Republicans,” and you can see why—no one even knows which faces to look for.
But we can try. There’s no easy way to accurately denote the unbending conservatives and the moderates in the House GOP. The “Tea Party caucus,” often cited as a guide to the party’s right wing, largely existed to rebrand Republicans who weren’t really members of the movement.
Much more useful: the Republican Study Committee, which consists of 164 dues-paying (literally) conservatives, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza’s “complete guide to understanding” House Republicans. Cillizza put Republicans into five groups, related to their votes on six bills: the fiscal cliff compromise of 2011, the 2013 vote for speaker, the Hurricane Sandy relief bill, the January 2013 debt-limit delay, the Violence Against Women Act, and the farm bill. Listed below are some of the key votes and stances that have identified the most hard-core Republicans. If a Republican is on this list, or voted against leadership on one of Cillizza’s items, assign a point. (I’m repeating two of Cillizza’s items, with a different emphasis.)