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McCarthy’s fight to lock down House speaker disrupts GOP caucus, delays key committee assignments

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U.S. House Minority Leader’s Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) presides over a press conference on the Save Our Sequoias Act at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2022.

Mary F. Calvert | Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s struggle to garner enough support within his party that wins the House presidency in January puts key decisions on hold and potentially hampers the party’s ability to implement his agenda when he assumes a majority in the House next year, according to the Republican congressional aides.

The California lawmaker needs 218 out of 222 Republicans in the House to elect him president on Jan. 3 if he is to avoid a messy public tussle and multiple ballots. As of Tuesday afternoon, McCarthy was still at least five votes short.

In a secret ballot vote held last month, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, challenged McCarthy for president and won 31 votes to 188 for McCarthy, a small but important bloc. Biggs said on Tuesday that he plans to officially run against McCarthy in January.

Biggs is among a small group of vocal opponents, who say there are as many as 20 members who are “hard no” and would vote against McCarthy in public, in the House. McCarthy allies say the real number is more like five to eight votes.

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Last Wednesday, a group of 13 conservative Republicans including McCarthy’s most vocal critics met behind closed doors with the House Congressman, the chamber’s chief rules arbiter, to learn more about the steps of the procedure for electing a president.

McCarthy also faces organized opposition from influential conservative outside groups like FreedomWorks and the Conservative Partnership Institute, which have amplified McCarthy’s criticisms on social media.

Suspended presidencies

Double

At the moment, neither McCarthy nor his band of antagonists seem ready to “come together”.

Instead, the two sides have been digging in over the past week, telling reporters they’re ready to take the fight to the House floor on Jan. 3.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to take the floor speaker fight,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill recently. “We will have 218,” he said. “In the end, we will get there.”

The recalcitrant members also stepped up the fight, with the five of them saying they would not vote “present” on Jan. 3, but would instead vote against McCarthy.

A “present” vote, rather than yes or no, would reduce the total number of votes McCarthy needed to secure the majority of the chamber, thus helping him without explicitly voting for him.

While McCarthy and his critics both seem set for a ground fight on Jan. 3, that’s not necessarily what members of the House Freedom Caucus want. The caucus is made up of about 40 of the most conservative Republicans in the house, many of whom are close allies of former President Donald Trump, including Biggs and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Messy ground fight

Gain allies “one by one”

McCarthy surprised both his allies and critics by locking in the support of several prominent conservatives who have clashed with him in the past.

Perhaps her biggest hit to date is Taylor Greene, who announced in mid-November that she would endorse McCarthy for president.

Taylor Greene’s past promotion of conspiracy theories cost the freshman lawmaker, who just won re-election in November, her committee assignments in 2021. It also prompted McCarthy to issue a lengthy statement condemning her earlier remarks, which he says “do not represent values ​​or beliefs”. House Republicans.”

Earlier this year, however, McCarthy promised to lift Taylor Greene’s ban and have her serve on committees “like any other member.”

A spokesperson for McCarthy wouldn’t respond to questions about how he garnered support for his presidential bid, but Taylor Greene recently drew a clear line between McCarthy’s decision to elevate his status within of the GOP caucus and his suitability to be president.

“To be the best Speaker in the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of latitude,” she told The New York Times in October. “And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very upset. I think that’s the best way to read it. And it’s not a threat in any way. I just think it’s reality. “

In late November, McCarthy traveled to the Texas border and announced he would launch investigations into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — a longtime wish of Freedom Caucus members. Taylor Greene hailed the announcement as a sign of McCarthy’s alignment with conservative priorities.

“McCarthy is ten times more politically talented than [former GOP speakers] Paul Ryan or John Boehner,” the Conservative strategist said, “and that’s also a factor here.”

The most noise

She also noted that in recent weeks several influential conservative voices, including Charlie KirkMike Cernovich and Mark Levin have all spoken publicly in support of McCarthy’s run for president.

There could be similar deals McCarthy needs to make with the moderate House GOP faction, whose members would take a deliberately low-key stance on the presidential race, leaving the Freedom Caucus arsonists to get a lot of attention while they go. focus on politics.

Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, who leads a moderate bloc known as the Republican Governance Group, recently pushed back against the idea that the Freedom Caucus would dictate the agenda in the House.

“They make the most noise, but when it comes to productivity, that’s not necessarily true,” Joyce recently told Fox News. “It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

More than 20 members of the Republican Governance Group signed an open letter last week to fellow Republicans, urging members of the anti-McCarthy camp to “put aside posturing” and unite behind the party leader.

The letter called on Republicans to put aside their differences, but it also drew a line in the sand.

“Make no mistake, we will not allow this conference to be dragged down the path of a crippled Assembly that weakens our hard-fought majority,” they wrote.



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