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Congressional Staff Scapegoating

At the onset, I’m writing this independent of any inside knowledge of the events that led to Paul Teller’s departure from the Republican Study Committee. After reading the many stories and blog posts penned on it, wanted to add some context, especially for folks who do things for a living that involved matters other than politics. For political types, there are a few valuable lessons from this tale too.

Paul was the executive director of the Republican Study Committee (RSC). The RSC is one of many Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) that Members of Congress create to caucus and advance a common legislative idea. There are a lot of them. With about close to 200 members, the RSC has been around for a long time. Its focus is to advance a conservative agenda.

Paul is a good man, we met and worked together many moons ago on Capitol Hill. A family man and hard-working individual, he is very committed to conservative values and political ideas. During the last decade or so Paul served as the RSC’s executive director. While I have been off the Hill for some time, I looked forward to the RSC’s weekly updates and many other products. He has the trust of many Members and staff and, no doubt, Paul will land on his feet as soon as this political crisis blows over.

Whether it was the case or not, the timing of Paul’s departure will be viewed by outsiders as a message by GOP leadership to the RSC members to tow the line on budget and related issues. The day before a budget agreement is announced, POLITICO breaks the story, rather dramatically, that Paul had been dismissed.

Unless your a communications person, Congressional staff is supposed to be in the background. Never seen or heard. Again, whether it was intended this way or not, several Members and gray hair staff have told me that it seemed to have been a clear signal to Tea Party members to behave. Paul may have done something, with Member blessing, that upset someone and an opportunity created to make a point. Conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin seems to think so. Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis penned the following:

Nobody wants to play second fiddle, and sometimes, staffers come to believe they are as important as the principal (and, in truth, they often are more knowledgeable.) In the case of an executive director who precedes (and succeeds) a couple of chairmen, it’s easy to see how one could build a sort of permanent power base. Chairmen come and go, after all, but if the staffers are permanent, who’s really in charge? (This is especially true when the chairman has another gig keeping him busy — like being a Member of Congress.)

In Paul’s case, according to a few folks I talked to about this, he may crossed the line a few times; however, as long as I have known him he has never suffered from “Member Complex” (what Matt Lewis alludes to in his piece). He knew he was a staffer and that he served at the leisure of the Members of the RSC. A lot of times, doing things that Members themselves did not want to do for a whole host of reasons including, but not limited to, plausible deniability.

Spend a few days on the Hill and you’ll soon learn that it is a challenging place to work. Members of Congress work very long hours and, after work, it keeps going. If you’re a staffer worth your mettle, you’ll keep up at the same pace. It is a team operation.  Was Paul used as a political scapegoat to send a message to Tea Party conservatives? Time will tell. However, no matter the reason, losing your job in this way comes with the job. It stinks. It just is. And, the truth is that most Members are oblivious to the sacrifices that certain staffers make, sometimes at great personal cost.

The RSC has been a core ideological crew that generated work product Members could use to draft legislation and move product consistent with the Republican agenda. In his own small way during the last decade, Paul helped make it so. If this was, as Brietbart’s Tony Lee says, a “declaration of war against conservatives by the Republican establishment,” then having Paul on the outside is going to make the GOP establishment’s political life somewhat unpleasant for the foreseeable future.

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