Rep. Peter Roskam: The Man Who Could Be Speaker

<> on June 3, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Illinois Republican Peter Roskam is one of the emerging candidates to replace Ohioan John Boehner as the powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives. So, who is Peter Roskam?

The five-term, low-profile Illinois Congressman is widely respected among House Republicans. “There’s a lot of deep personal relationships and there’s a lot of respect for him,” one of his colleagues told the National Review. “Very definitely, I think that Peter’s got the ability to move forward and to be in a leadership position,” said another colleague, Rep. Walter Jones (R., NC).

Very few House members have anything bad to say about Roskam, and he is saying little about his own ambitions.

Roskam had announced his support of Rep. Kevin McCarthy before the Californian’s abrupt departure from the race for the Speaker’s chair. He then told reporters that he doesn’t want to comment about the race until he is sure of what much-touted Rep. Paul Ryan intends to do.

In the consideration of qualifications, Peter Roskam has a long history in government and good record for cutting taxes, denouncing regulations, and advocating for fiscal conservatism. He also has a long record of serious pro-life positions and votes. He has a solid understanding of budgeting and fiscal policy and has experience in leadership not only in Washington, but also in the state legislature.

Roskam is the Representative from the Sixth District, is a life-long resident of Illinois.

He came to Congress in 2007 and quickly rose up through the ranks of Republican leadership to become the party’s chief deputy whip in 2011, mostly due to his solid grasp of fiscal policy.

But he lost that role in 2014 when Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise suprisingly bumped him out of the spot. Roskam was blindsided by Scalise’s politicking. He seemed to think his position was secure enough that he didn’t need to run around shoring up political support for a House vote for a position he already had.

He has a long resume of state leadership, having served in both the state’s House and Senate. He was a member of the Senate’s leadership, where he worked as Republican whip up to 2006.

Roskam was a fiscal warrior when he was in the Illinois Senate. He was a key ally of the “Fab Five,” a set of five state Senators who became famous state-wide for advocating for fiscal restraint as the state headed toward the fiscal disaster to which it has now fallen victim.

In Springfield, the state’s capitol, Roskam authored or co-sponsored a whopping fourteen bills to cut taxes and worked with the “Fab Five,” (Senators Davy Syverson, Chris Lauzen, Steve Rauschenberger, Patrick O’Malley, and Peter Fitzgerald) to cut the budget and scuttle useless state programs. Sadly, by the time Roskam left the state legislature to head to Washington, most of the fiscally responsible “Fab Five “ state Senators also left public life in one way or another and the state of Illinois has spiraled out of fiscal control since.

Roskam has such a solid pro-life record that he has received a 100 percent rating from National Right To Life (NLRC)–one of the nation’s leading pro-life organizations–and a corresponding zero rating from abortion-pushing NARAL. But his pro-life record goes all the way back to his first days in the public eye. In Springfield, for instance, he vigorously opposed fetal stem cell research and in 2004 voted against State Comptroller Dan Hynes’s proposal to raise $1 billion in taxes on cosmetic surgery to fund research into embryos’ stem-cells. He opposes abortion but does support a “life of the mother” exemption. He does not support exemptions for rape or incest.

Roskam has also earned an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association in the past. When he was in the state legislature and before the state was the last to pass “concealed carry” of guns, Roskam sponsored a bill that would have allowed retired military and police officers to carry weapons. Anti-gun Democrats killed that bill.

As Whip, Roskam stated his opposition to the U.S. Senate’s 2013 “comprehensive immigration reform” that would have doubled the 10-year arrival of immigrants to roughly 33 million.

Back in 2006, during a candidate forum, Roskam also angered liberals by describing “global warming” claims as “junk science.”

The Illinoisan usually rates in the 80 and 90th percentile among most groups and lobbyists that focus on the business sector. He has also been a staunch advocate for free trade legislation. In June 2015, he voted to give Obama “Fast-Track Authority” on pending free-trade deals, but he left himself wiggle room to vote against the now-completed “Trans-Pacific Partnership” free trade deal.

Roskam’s ratings with some of the conservative advocacy groups are not high, partly because he was obliged to vote with the GOP’s establishment wing as the price for serving as a whip. For example, his ratings with the Club for Growth, Freedom Works and the Heritage Foundation are 70 percent, 71 percent, and 55 percent lifetime respectively. Roskam has also been awarded a B- from the National Taxpayers Union and a 100 percent from Americans for Tax Reform.

The record shows that Roskam arguably has a much more conservative view on fiscal policy than John Boehner or Kevin McCarthy.

Roskam has led several initiatives over the last 20 years, as well. In the early 2000s he and then State Senator Barack Obama helped reform the Land Of Lincoln’s death-penalty laws. Once Obama ascended to the White House, though, Roskam noted that State Senator Obama and President Obama were like “two different people.”

“You know, in the legislature, Barack Obama was somebody you could sit down and negotiate with,” Roskam said in December of 2012. “We did some of [death penalty] things together that were helpful and implemented good reforms because he was able to sit down, negotiate, and accept yes for an answer.”

“Now I think the problem is that the president has not shown any bipartisanship,” he concluded. “With Nancy Pelosi as House speaker and Harry Reid in the Senate, he could move an agenda. But with a Republican majority [in the House], his view is, ‘You vote yes on my agenda.’ It’s as if there have been two different approaches. One resulted in good results. This is not yielding a good result.”

Roskam led the initiative to scale back regulatory overreach in 2011 when he noted that the EPA was making rules despite the fact that science and technology hadn’t even caught up with the Obama administration’s overly stringent new rules.

Roskam also pointed out that Obama’s strict EPA rules were making the bad economy worse. “This economy can be great. But right now the heavy hand of government is holding down this great economy. Regulations need to be rational to facilitate growth. You cannot program the U.S. economy. It is a thing of beauty but it can’t be programed,” he said.

When he was still Whip, Roskam was also part of the team that instituted actual budget cuts for the first time in nearly 100 years. He noted during the 2010 session of Congress that the budget-cut proposals then leading the discussion marked the first time in many decades that leaders were actually discussing cuts as opposed to simply claiming that a lower rate in the growth of spending was a “cut.”

The Illinoisan also has strong foreign policy positions, and sides firmly with Israel and opposes Iran. In September, Roskam floated the idea that the House should sue Obama to release his secret side-deals with Iran that are part of the President’s disastrous nuclear deal with that terror exporting state.

For a member of the establishment, Peter Roskam has a solid record on conservative issues, is well liked among the Republican caucus, and has the organizational chops to serve as a an able, no drama Speaker.

He certainly isn’t one of the media’s dreaded “hardcore conservatives,” he also isn’t a liberal masquerading as a Republican.

It all adds up to the possibility that Roskam could bring a majority to his side to win the Speaker’s chair. He is conservative enough for the many conservative legislators, and has enough history in leadership to mollify the qualms of the more establishment side of the caucus.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at


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