Front-runner McCarthy makes move

Front-runner McCarthy makes move
© Greg Nash

Races for the top House Republican leadership spots began firming up Monday, as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made official his bid for the Speakership and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) won two key endorsements for the No. 2 House GOP post.

McCarthy announced his bid in an email to colleagues in which he pledged to “heal” divisions in the conference that plagued outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE’s (R-Ohio) reign.

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“We can’t ignore the differences that exist, but we can and must heal the divisions in our conference with work, time, and trust,” McCarthy wrote. “That is why I have decided to run for Speaker of the House and graciously ask for your support.”

Later, in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, McCarthy predicted he would win election as Speaker.

“I believe we can. A lot of people have counted me out before. But I think if we work hard, we’ll be able to do it,” McCarthy told Baier on “Special Report.”

Hours before the email, McCarthy saw a possible powerful rival, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the conservative chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, pass up a bid for leadership “after prayerful consideration.” 

Instead, Hensarling is throwing his support behind McCarthy for Speaker and behind Price, the Budget Committee chairman, for McCarthy’s current job. 

It marked the second big endorsement on Monday for Price: Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanWeek ahead: Trump's health pick takes the hot seat Trump criticizes controversial piece of House GOP tax plan Hispanic Dems warn Latinos will be hit hard by ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Wis.), the popular 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee and current Ways and Means Committee chairman, also backed him, saying he has “a proven record of advancing conservative solutions and principles” and the “knowledge and skills needed to be an effective majority leader.”

The Ryan and Hensarling endorsements gave a boost to Price in the tight race for the leader post. Ryan built a powerful whip operation earlier this year as his Ways and Means panel successfully pushed major trade legislation through the House.

Price was expected to face two other political heavyweights in the race for GOP leader: Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersTen rumored Trump Cabinet picks who didn't get a job A bitter end to the VA status quo Ryan reelected Speaker in near-unanimous GOP vote MORE (Wash.), but McMorris Rodgers said Monday night she was dropping out of the race and remaining on as the No. 4 leader. Former Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.), who lost the whip’s race to Scalise last year, is eyeing a possible return to leadership as well.

Still, with conservatives demanding a shake-up of leadership with outsider candidates from red states, Price could be an early favorite to succeed McCarthy.

“He’s a conservative guy, a principled guy. He has worked with moderates and conservatives when it comes to passing the budget,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who led the effort this summer to boot Boehner from the Speaker’s office, told The Hill on Monday.

“In the right scenario, certainly having Tom Price as a member of the leadership team is good. Am I endorsing him for leader? No. I’m withholding judgment until I get a chance to talk to him, Cathy and Steve.”

Price’s critics point out that Ryan and Hensarling endorsed him in his 2012 race against McMorris Rodgers for conference chairman; the Washington state Republican defeated Price.

Like Scalise, Price is a former chairman of the 170-member group of conservative lawmakers known as the Republican Study Committee. But as the GOP’s chief vote-counter, Scalise has a built-in advantage in a competitive race where it pays to personally know the needs of fellow Republicans.

“Scalise’s support is running coast to coast, including Republicans from Ohio, Florida, Texas and Louisiana,” said a source close to Scalise. “Those backing Scalise include members from the most conservative districts to swing districts. We’re seeing a lot of the same support he had in his first whip race.”

“Simply reshuffling the deck” won’t fix the GOP infighting that’s tearing the party apart, Roskam, who is also mulling a bid for leadership, said in a letter to leaders that called on them to delay elections.

The Illinois lawmaker wrote that the GOP should first hold a special meeting to discuss some of the intraparty divisions that forced Boehner out in the first place.

Responding to a potential rival, McMorris Rodgers scheduled a members-only special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss how the party would move past the GOP turmoil. Leadership elections could be held within the next 10 days, some lawmakers and aides said.

“This conference meeting is not about any one leader or group of Members,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in a letter to colleagues. “All of us want to work together with the trust and respect our service demands, and it starts with opening lines of communication on Tuesday.”

Monday’s developments followed a flurry of activity over the weekend by candidates eyeing a move up the leadership ladder following Boehner’s surprise announcement that he would resign from Congress on Oct. 30.

If Scalise is elected majority leader, his chief deputy whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), as well as Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a deputy whip, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), is expected to jump in the race for the No. 3 spot. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is also mulling a bid for GOP whip.

“This field is going to change daily, if not hourly,” said a GOP leadership aide

The two declared candidates to replace Boehner — his deputy, McCarthy, and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) — spent the weekend calling, texting and emailing dozens of their colleagues to shore up support.

McCarthy, the fast-rising, well-liked congressman from Bakersfield who has raised millions of dollars for his GOP colleagues, is expected to easily win a majority of the 247-member Republican Conference when internal elections are held behind closed doors.

But Webster, the former Speaker of the Florida state House, could try to deny McCarthy the 218 votes on the House floor that he needs to formally win the Speaker’s gavel. If Webster can secure roughly 30 GOP votes, he could force a second ballot and throw the process into chaos.

Webster secured a dozen votes in a similar roll call for Speaker in January. There certainly will be a push by Republicans to unify behind a candidate in the public floor vote, but it’s inevitable that there will be some defections.

“I’m working as hard as I can to win it, and I would love to win it, and I want to win it,” Webster said in an interview with The Hill over the weekend. “I’m in this to win.”

Webster has called for a new bottom-up, more inclusive, “member-driven” leadership structure in the House — a push echoed in a letter sent to GOP leadership candidates on Monday by five rank-and-file Republicans.

In the letter obtained by The Hill, GOP Reps. Mark Amodei (Nev.), Jim Renacci (Ohio), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Reid Ribble (Wis.) and Vicky Hartzler (Mo.) urged candidates to return to regular order; empower subcommittee chairmen with more resources; create a culture of inclusivity within the conference; and allow committee members to give input on the selection of chairmen.

“The acts of the past week were historic in nature,” the five lawmakers wrote. “Shifting Leadership positions alone will not change the culture or bridge our Conference’s divisions. 

“Our Conference must move from a command-and-control leadership structure to a bottom up member driven approach to governance.”

Last updated at 9:34 p.m.