House conservatives withhold support for McCarthy

Conservative House Republicans are pushing for GOP leadership elections to be delayed ahead of closed-door votes next week on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) Speakership bid and other offices.

It’s still not clear which party will control the House, with nearly three-dozen races without a winner. While the GOP is still favored to win the majority, it is expected to be much smaller than once thought, which has given critics of McCarthy an argument to make against him. 

“We don’t even know if we have the majority or who’s in the majority,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said in an interview on Thursday. “People haven’t come to Washington, D.C., because they don’t know if they’ve won their races yet.” 

“And how can they be expected to vote for a rules package, how we run this place, or leadership if they haven’t met these people, they haven’t heard their pitch?” Perry said. 

McCarthy is working to shore up support for Speaker, and members supporting him maintain confidence he will capture the role. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) suggested that those casting doubt on McCarthy’s chances come down to “saber rattling.”

“He’s our best strategist. He’s our best fundraiser. He’s our best recruiter. If it weren’t for Kevin’s efforts, we wouldn’t be back in the majority. So I just feel like he’s going to get the gavel,” Reschenthaler said.

Asked in the Capitol on Wednesday whether he has the votes for both the majority and the Speakership, McCarthy said, “Yes” – but did not respond to a follow up asking about the Freedom Caucus.

Still, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that McCarthy does not have the votes yet. 

“It takes 218 votes. … And there’s not a soul in this town right now that has 218 votes,” Roy told reporters on Thursday.  

McCarthy doesn’t actually need 218 votes until a public vote on the House floor, when Democrats and Republicans will vote on a new Speaker.  

The House GOP leadership elections scheduled to take place on Tuesday are behind closed doors, and only a majority vote is required to win.  

It is unclear if any Republicans will challenge McCarthy in that backroom vote. Doing so could be a risky proposition, though a narrow majority will also give conservatives even more leverage with their leaders.  

Roy noted that he made a last-minute bid for House GOP conference chair against Rep. Elise Setfanik (R-N.Y.) last year to avoid a “coronation.” He did not go so far as to call for a challenger to McCarthy — but he also did not rule out throwing his hat into the ring for Speaker. 

Election results falling well below expectations have contributed to McCarthy not having the Speakership locked up, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said in a recent interview. 

“I think that his statement recently that we shouldn’t impeach [Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas indicates maybe we’re not gonna be as aggressive going forward as we should be,” Biggs told reporters on Thursday. 

Roy wants to see more substantive details and a plan for investigations and oversight of the House. McCarthy and GOP leaders have promised substantive inquiries and hearings ranging from the origins of COVID-19 to alleged politicization at the Department of Justice.

“I certainly don’t think we should be having elections before we have everything counted and know what our numbers are,” Roy said. 

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-C.S.) similarly told reporters that “hopefully the leadership elections will be delayed.” McCarthy asked for his support, Norman said, but he declined to commit. He said that he does not know whether McCarthy still has a solid base of support. 

The House Freedom Caucus chair and McCarthy had yet to connect post-election as of Thursday afternoon. Perry said that he called McCarthy on Wednesday, but was not able to talk to him — adding that to his knowledge, the GOP leader has not reached out to him either. 

“I know when I’m running for office, I go out and see my constituents and the people that I hope to encourage that I’ve earned their vote and I go trying to speak to them. So I stand ready to have a conversation,” Perry said. 

The Freedom Caucus is hoping to negotiate with GOP leaders about a slate of rules change requests for the internal House GOP conference and the House as a whole that would empower individual members. 

“What we want to make sure of is that every member of Congress is treated fairly and equally,” Perry said. “Increasingly, over decades, it has been that power — that voice — has been concentrated in leadership in both the Senate and the House.” 

Among the requests is restoring the motion to vacate the chair, a move to force a vote on removing the Speaker. The move was used by former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) against former GOP Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who resigned from Congress later that year. McCarthy told Punchbowl News before the election that he opposed that proposal, saying: “I personally don’t take well to leveraging.” 

Freedom Caucus members have also moved for the GOP conference to vote on rules before they vote on leaders. A conference motion to do that was tabled earlier this year. 

Roy said he got news Thursday afternoon that “doesn’t seem to be where the current leadership wants to go.” 

“We are obviously a little distressed” about the election results, Perry said. “We’re confident we’re going to win the majority. We wish it could be a more robust majority.” 

But even though there is disappointment over red wave expectations hitting a breaker, a slimmer House majority has the potential to empower the Freedom Caucus to exert pressure on GOP leaders.

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