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.
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.
Amid the turmoil over the presidency, Republican leaders in the House appear to have suspended tough decisions about who will be chosen to serve as open committee chairs.
This includes the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy. three republicansThe s are locked in a very public battle for the presidency, a decision that ultimately rests with McCarthy and his lieutenants on the Republican Steering Committee, the party’s internal leadership council.
The Steering Committee vote for the Ways and Means Chair was originally scheduled to take place this week. But two Republican congressional aides, who asked not to be named for speaking candidly about the internal deliberations, said they had been suspended – along with votes on two other open presidents’ seats, on the budget committee and on the committee. internal security.
It was unclear how long the delay would last, but aides said it could be until the presidential contest is settled, which could be January.
A spokesperson for McCarthy did not respond to CNBC’s questions about the committee’s voting schedule.
McCarthy himself said essentially the same thing over the weekend, warning that Republicans who refuse to back him for president are “delaying our ability to govern.”
“I hope everyone comes together, finds a way to govern together. That’s what the American people want,” McCarthy said Sunday on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures. “Otherwise we will waste this majority.”
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.
“The Freedom Caucus doesn’t want this to result in a messy ground fight. It doesn’t help them or the party,” said a conservative strategist familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.
“The goal was never to embarrass Kevin McCarthy on the [House] floor, nobody wants that,” she said.
Instead, this larger group of conservative Republicans has publicly stated that what they really want is for McCarthy to greenlight changes to the rules that govern day-to-day operations in the House.
In July, the House Freedom Caucus released a list of their desired changes online.
The overarching goal of the changes is to limit the president’s enormous power under current rules and give rank-and-file Republican members more say in who gets top positions.
So far, McCarthy hasn’t accepted any of them.
“He doesn’t really negotiate with members of the Freedom Caucus, he always tries to pick people one by one,” the conservative strategist said.
A spokesperson for McCarthy declined to comment on his strategy.
“He thinks he can call the resisters on their bluff, but they’re not bluffing,” the strategist said.
But while it may be impossible for McCarthy to budge from the five stalwart opponents, other key figures in the conservative political ecosystem have proven surprisingly persuasive.
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.”
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.