AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now, to one place where the fight over the future direction over the Republican Party is playing out - the House of Representatives. A race for the number four House Republican leadership post has taken on broader significance, pitting a conservative congressman from Georgia against a congresswoman from Washington state, who has said the GOP has to become, quote, "more modern." And today, that Washington congresswoman won.
For more on the shape of the House leadership and what it says about the Republican Party going forward, we're joined by Martin Kady, congressional editor at Politico. Welcome, Martin.
MARTIN KADY: Thank you.
CORNISH: So, this was a contest between Cathy McMorris Rogers and Tom Price. It's the number four position in the House majority, which seems, you know, like "Inside Baseball," frankly. But what about this race appears to take on larger significance?
KADY: Well, you're right that these leadership races are "Inside Baseball." You know, they happen behind closed doors with a vote you don't get the results on but they have, often, major outside implications. And for the Republican Party, making sure they have a woman at the leadership table is a big priority.
Tom Price made a late run to try to get at this and Paul Ryan came back from his election campaign, came back to the House and endorsed Tom Price. They're buddies, they're both serious conservatives but the Republican leaders did want Cathy McMorris Rogers. They're worried about the gender gap that was so strong in the election. They're worried about Republicans lagging on women's issues. So they're kind of breathing a sigh of relief that they do have one woman in Republican leadership now.
CORNISH: Now, House Speaker John Boehner is officially neutral, but privately supporting McMorris Rogers for the post. What more do we know about what he wants, what he needs on his leadership team at this point?
KADY: You know, what John Boehner wants to do is project a House Republican majority that does two things. One, they do want to hold the line against the Obama mandate. And Obama does believe he has a mandate on the fiscal cliff. And they need to hold the line on a larger Democratic Senate. They're up to 55 in the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
So that's the sort of, you know, please the base, let's stay conservative. But then there's the other side of John Boehner. He wants to sound reasonable in negotiating. He realizes how unpopular the Congress is. And how people will probably blame Republicans if we do go over the fiscal cliff on taxes and spending cuts. So, Boehner wants to project an image that is a little more diverse and is willing to negotiate on some of these major issues. And they like having Cathy McMorris Rogers, who is young, she's 43, she's from the West Coast and she's a woman. That's someone they want at the front of the mics in these press conferences.
CORNISH: Let's talk about one other factor here - Paul Ryan. Now, he's not in House leadership - he's a Budget Committee chair - but he sent a letter backing Tom Price. And after spending the last few months running alongside Mitt Romney, how much of this was a test of Ryan's post-election influence?
KADY: That was a surprising move for Ryan. I mean, he is the person who's thought to be still the intellectual leader of the party. Even though he lost in the presidential campaign, he came back to a lot of cheers today. It was the first big meeting. But he went up against leadership by supporting Tom Price and opposing Cathy McMorris Rogers and his side lost. So, it's an open question as to how much sway Paul Ryan really has in these types of internal Republican races. Today, he ended up on the losing end.
CORNISH: And, Martin, lastly, the fiscal cliff negotiations - what does this discussion tell us about what kind of influence Speaker Boehner is going to have this time around?
KADY: I think this shows that John Boehner has a little bit tighter control over the House Republican majority this time around. Remember last time, in 2010, when the Republican wave came in, they took over Congress. The Tea Party folks came in, they wanted to block everything. They were fired up. This time around they're a little bit more subdued. They realize that there's a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, a Democratic second-term president who's ready to make some deals.
That's not to say they're going to compromise on all their conservative principles but they seem more willing to accept some kind of deal this time around.
CORNISH: That was Martin Kady, congressional editor for Politico. Martin, thank you.
KADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.