House GOP faces pivotal week

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House Republicans will huddle behind closed doors Thursday to pick their next Speaker, but there’s already a nasty fight brewing over how exactly those elections will be held.

Should candidates be forced to resign their current leadership jobs first? And should an election for majority leader be held on the same day, even though there’s no guarantee sitting Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) can secure the 218 floor votes needed to be promoted to Speaker next month?

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House GOP leaders will host a special “listening session” Wednesday afternoon to debate those questions, as well as discuss other possible rules changes to make the massive 247-member GOP conference more more open and inclusive. Leaders said they will form a “working group” to evaluate current rules and procedures, but the window is closing to change any rules before Thursday’s elections.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) is pushing for a rules change requiring that anyone running for a new leadership post would have to resign their current leadership job. That would mean both McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — who is vying to replace McCarthy in the No. 2 slot —would have to resign to run for their new leadership jobs.

Meanwhile, leadership allies are contemplating bringing forward a separate proposal that would boot Republicans out of the GOP conference if they vote against the party’s nominee for Speaker on the House floor, sources told The Hill.

A record 25 Republicans voted against Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIf 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? Cameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Rubio flies with Obama on Air Force One to Orlando MORE on the House floor in January — a taste of what was to come for the Ohio Republican, who said he would resign Oct. 30 in the face of conservative threats to oust him.

If Republicans were kicked out of the GOP conference, they wouldn’t be able to vote in future leadership elections or attend weekly conference meetings, among losing other perks.  

“People back home could run against you and say, ‘You’re not even a Republican,’” said one senior GOP lawmaker who is close to leadership.

Tuesday marks the start of a pivotal week for Republicans. Several conservative groups, including the House Freedom, Tea Party and Liberty caucuses, have invited McCarthy and his two rivals for Speaker, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOvernight Energy: Obama signs chemical safety reform into law House caucus to focus on business in Latin America Freedom Caucus urges vote on impeaching IRS commissioner MORE (R-Utah), to appear at a closed-door candidates forum at the Capitol Hill Club. Chaffetz formally announced his bid for Speaker on Sunday.

On Wednesday, candidates for Speaker will appear before another conservative group, the 170-member Republican Study Committee. That same day, House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Policy Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.) will hold a meeting to solicit ideas to address ongoing complaints about the current “top-down” power structure where leaders choose which bills come to the floor.

“We must find a mechanism that truly utilizes the talents and expertise of rank-and-file Members, and thereby empowers the American people – those who elected us to office,” McMorris Rodgers and Messer wrote in a “Dear colleague” letter Saturday. 

“Change is hard. In some ways, it would be easier to stick with the status quo. But changing our rules and power structure a little will change our culture a lot.”

McMorris Rodgers, who oversees the process, has indicated that closed-door elections will be held at noon Thursday for Speaker and “any other vacancies that may occur.” Under that scenario, a race between Scalise and Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) for majority leader will be held if McCarthy wins the nomination for Speaker.

And a four-way race for majority whip, the No. 3 post, would be held if Scalise defeats Price. The candidates for GOP whip are: Scalise’s chief deputy whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.); two other members of the whip team, Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.); and Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who previously led the House GOP campaign arm.

Conservatives will argue this week that only the Speaker’s election should be held on Thursday, since the leader slot wouldn’t technically be vacant until its current occupant, McCarthy, is elected Speaker on the House floor. The Speaker is the only leadership post that requires a formal roll call on the House floor, and that wouldn’t occur until after Boehner leaves office at the end of the month.

“You can’t hold a majority leader race until after you elect a speaker. … If that is the plan, then I guess I would have to object,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), one of the leaders of the Freedom Caucus, said in an interview.

“Now, Mr. McCarthy could vacate that position on Thursday, then you can have an election,” Mulvaney said. “But I don’t think our rules provide for an election for a position that is not vacant.”

Mulvaney, Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans began circulating a letter to colleagues that says conference rules dictate that elections for any position other than Speaker would be “premature.”

“Simply put, we cannot and should not hold elections for vacancies that have not occurred prior to October 8,” they wrote.

Mulvaney, who has not decided who he’s backing in the Speaker’s race, posed one scenario that would likely keep House Parliamentarian Thomas J. Wickham Jr. extremely busy: McCarthy is nominated by the conference Thursday to be the next Speaker, and Scalise also becomes majority leader-elect; but McCarthy can’t close the deal and either Chaffetz or Webster is elected Speaker on a second ballot.

Who would the majority leader be at that point?

“I’ll bet you a dollar Kevin McCarthy thinks it’s him, and Steve Scalise thinks it’s him,” Mulvaney quipped.

--This report was updated at 9:28 a.m.

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Chaffetz announces bid for Speakership