Wanted by McCarthy Critics: 1 Qualified Alternative Speaker
A chief McCarthy critic, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), denied any implication that McCarthy’s critics were having trouble bringing together like-minded GOP lawmakers.
“There’s no diminishing of that,” Good said in an interview. “There are more people like that coming to us and asking what we’re looking for, because they’re interested in being speakers.”
Other central players in these strategy meetings include Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), as well as Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.). Boebert, who has said she’s made up her mind on her vote but hasn’t revealed it publicly, brought up incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin (RN.Y.) in those closed-door meetings as a potential alternative, according to those two people.
But Zeldin signaled his support for McCarthy, saying he believed the current Minority Leader was backed by an “overwhelming number” of House Republicans.
Rep. Ralph Norman (RS.C.) is also openly seeking an alternative speaker candidate, who indicated he had a name in mind but declined to share it, saying it wouldn’t be “fair” to the person. Some fellow Republicans suspect he’s siding with former Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who led NASA under the Trump administration and, like Zeldin, pulled out of the race.
Both Zeldin and Bridenstine would make history if they win GOP floor votes for speaker, becoming two of the few non-seated members to gain support.
Yet Norman can also soften his previously stated hellish stance on McCarthy for the speaker. After taking a strong stance last month, Norman recently changed his stance to say he was “no right now” and had four weeks to make up his mind.
A member who is already in the lead, current Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), has also been touted as a potential alternative speaker by McCarthy’s opponents, according to a Republican familiar with the talks. And this despite Scalise’s personal avoidance of the perspective and statements that he supports McCarthy, not to mention the skepticism of some members of the Freedom Caucus that McCarthy’s No. 2 would give them something different as a speaker, according to another Republican.
Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has long pushed names like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), co-founder of the Freedom Caucus. But the Ohio Republican has repeatedly kissed McCarthy, his former adversary turned ally, and is even seen as working to help him behind the scenes.
“I’m definitely talking to members about why I think it’s important for him to be a speaker,” Jordan said, declining to elaborate on whether those talks are one-on-one or group meetings.
Conservatives admit Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), who lost to McCarthy in a conference-wide speaker nominating vote, is not a viable challenger, just an acting placeholder as a conduit for the frustrations of the right flank. And adamant opponents of the California Republican say there’s little incentive for a “consensual” candidate to throw his hat in the ring right now. Such a move, they say, would only alienate McCarthy supporters that a challenger would ultimately have to be elected – and put a target on their backs.
“I think people are realizing … if someone came out now and we didn’t get enough votes to stop Mr. McCarthy, there would be real potential for a blowback. So I think people are interested, they’ve expressed that to some of us,” the Arizona Republican and Freedom Caucus member said.
He added that he did not see the lack of an alternate name as a “real problem” for colleagues who were hesitant to support McCarthy, and that members were “certainly” careful about saying “absolutely no”.
McCarthy’s opponents are well aware of the spotlight they have put themselves in and are planning accordingly. A fourth Republican said some of its members have practiced answering questions if the press asks them about their vote for president.
And there’s dueling pressure on McCarthy’s five opponents. A grassroots base that dislikes McCarthy has encouraged the group’s efforts, but powerful conservative names have begun to castigate the rebellion – such as conservative Fox News host Mark Levin taking on Biggs. In the middle is a swath of Freedom Caucus members who have yet to say how they will vote on Jan. 3 and have continued to push for the rules to change to empower themselves and other rank-and-file members.
“The Freedom Caucus… [is] doesn’t always go okay and that’s how this place is supposed to work,” said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.).
This isn’t the first time the Freedom Caucus has publicly cracked down. The group has experienced a post-Trump identity crisis as it debates its future in a GOP-controlled house beginning in January. But this crisis has reached the point where some members have been barred from anti-McCarthy strategy meetings, as Biggs and other opponents try to figure out who is actually participating in their challenge to the GOP leader.
And despite the whirlwind of drama surrounding the loudspeaker fight, the conservatives believe their tactics are at least partially paying off, leading to some concessions on the rules. The leaders, however, rejected many of their most important proposals which would have significantly reduced McCarthy’s power.
Some are redoubling their efforts for these measures. Five Republicans who haven’t said publicly how they plan to vote — despite attending anti-McCarthy planning meetings as observers — have put send a letter demanding the ability to move to drop off the speaker without having a majority of the GOP conference, as well as other demands that include leadership staying out of the primaries. The letter was signed by Perry and Roy, plus Reps. Dan Bishop (RN.C.), Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) along with two elected members.
But according to a member who attended a meeting Thursday with McCarthy and some members making the new push, the GOP leader has already rejected their demands, leading them to release the letter publicly.
Others say it’s just the beginning: A McCarthy ally said the leader has worked “tirelessly” to address concerns about conference rules and committee assignments.
Additionally, members of the Freedom Caucus are closely watching the Homeland Security Committee’s race for the top spot, hoping that a second member in their ranks will receive a hammer. Freedom Caucus Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) is running against Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) for the role.
“I have nothing against Mr. Crenshaw. He’s also a great guy. But Mark is a member of the Freedom Caucus and he’s a great member, so yeah, I think that kinda matters,” said Jordan, who is expected to lead the Judiciary Committee next year.