The fight over who will be the President's chief defender when Democrats take the House in January is on with members of the Republican's House Freedom Caucus vying for the top slots on the committees that will be in the spotlight next year.
Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio are aiming to fill the slots of ranking member on the Oversight and Judiciary Committees respectively, telling CNN they both have filled out the questionnaires required. But their campaigns are still fluid and Republicans familiar with the races for the top slots are scratching their heads, confused by the decisions.
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Two Republican members familiar with the work on the steering committee told CNN they were caught off guard by Jordan and Meadows' move. Jordan is next in line by seniority to be ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, not guaranteeing him the post but giving him a better shot than running for Judiciary where two other members -- Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot and Georgia Rep. Doug Collins -- are already campaigning to be ranking member.
One GOP member familiar with the steering committee said there had been some appetite for Jordan to lead Republicans on Oversight. Meanwhile, members running for top spots in committees typically spend months working members of the steering committee. That hasn't been happening with them, according to the members CNN spoke with.
Asked who he thought would be the best defender of Trump on the Oversight and Judiciary committees, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority Leader, said it would be up to the conference to decide that.
"The steering committee will make all those determinations," McCarthy, a California Republican, said adding that "Members are welcome to run for more than one spot."
The wild card in the fight over the leadership posts is President Donald Trump. As the White House prepares for an onslaught of Democratic investigations, it's Trump's voice that could impact the steering committee's decision on who is chosen to be ranking member on Oversight and Judiciary. Those committees are expected to be front and center in Democratic efforts to investigate Trump, places where the President may feel most comfortable being defended by close allies.
Meadows and Jordan are both close to Trump and have his ear on issues related to the ongoing Russia investigation and internal politics of the GOP conference.
Meadows rejected the idea he'd want the post on Oversight just to be in Trump's corner.
"it's all about doing proper oversight regardless of who is in the White House," Meadows said.
In recent days, a congressional source confirmed that there have been discussions between the President and members about the leadership dynamics and committee roles. Before Thanksgiving, CNN reported that in private conversations with McCarthy, the President pushed for Jordan and Meadows to have the top Republican positions on key committees, according to a source familiar.
One White House official said that the President may be making calls on this, but the vice president -- who was on the Hill on Tuesday for the Senate policy lunch -- has not waded into the topic of committee roles.
Behind the scenes, conservatives have encouraged Jordan to seek the Judiciary post. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida told CNN that he repeatedly urged Jordan to run for ranking member.
Gaetz said he hoped McCarthy would give Jordan support in the matter "which should happen if the leader isn't trying to screw the President."
Gaetz commented that Jordan has been part of a small group of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee that "show up" for all the various hearings and who have "internalized this fact pattern" about investigations that he says will be crucial when the Dems come into power in January.
He added he's told Jordan for weeks that he would be better as the ranking member on Judiciary than minority leader, a position that Jordan sought before losing to McCarthy before Thanksgiving.
"When it comes to the battle over the potential impeachment of the president you have to be present to win," Gaetz said. He believes Jordan's presence on the committee is the best possible defense of Trump.