House GOP lawmakers this week confronted Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about rumors they worried could have hampered his bid for Speaker.
At a closed-door meeting on Tuesday with Texas’s GOP delegation, members pressed McCarthy for reassurances.
“They said, ‘Do not let me support you and find out later once we elect you, you did commit a misdeed,'" said one senior Texas lawmaker who was in the meeting. “I was satisfied with Kevin’s answer.”
GOP Rep. Joe Barton, dean of the Texas delegation, would not share the details of what was said during Tuesday’s meeting, but confirmed a meeting did occur.
“I know that we had a meeting with Kevin McCarthy. I know that he spoke to the Texas delegation. He gave an opening statement, took questions and it was a positive interaction,” Barton told The Hill. “And had there been a vote, he would have gotten all but a very small number.”
McCarthy’s office declined to comment for this story.
Two days after that meeting, McCarthy stunned the political world by abruptly dropping out of the race to succeed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), just when he appeared a shoo-in to win the nomination from his conference.
McCarthy told reporters his decision had nothing to do with a letter from conservative Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), calling on leadership candidates to step down if they have “skeletons in their closets” or have committed “misdeeds.”
In his letter, Jones said he didn't want a replay of the 1998 Bob Livingston saga. Livingston, a Louisiana congressman, was one of the Republicans who called on President Bill Clinton to resign after his affair with a White House intern. But shortly after being elected Speaker, Livingston himself resigned on the House floor after admitting to his own extramarital affair.
Instead, McCarthy said he was concerned with how many votes he could secure on the House floor as Speaker, and how long he could survive as Speaker if he barely squeaked by with slightly more than the 218 votes needed.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus had endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) for Speaker, and had suggested they would withhold support for McCarthy on the floor. They were pressing for additional concessions from McCarthy, including a possible new candidate for majority leader.
In an interview with the National Review’s Rich Lowry, McCarthy suggested the price of concessions to conservative members would have been too high.
He also told reporters that he believed Republicans needed a “fresh face” to unify them.
Members are now pressing for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to enter the race.
McCarthy’s reversal was a stunner because he seemed close to winning a dream job.
Two hours earlier, McCarthy fielded dozens of questions from GOP colleagues at a candidates’ forum about how he would run the House differently than Boehner.
But in recent days, the McCarthy rumors were also raising alarm bells for other GOP lawmakers. Since McCarthy jumped in the race to replace Boehner two weeks ago, Steven Baer, a conservative activist and gadfly from Chicago, has been flooding lawmakers’ personal email inboxes with blogs and articles about the McCarthy rumors.
At least eight GOP lawmakers told The Hill they had personally received the Baer emails. One lawmaker said his wife got one of the emails, then asked him about it. A female Western state lawmaker said she began investigating Baer and the issue on Google.
One Midwest Republican lawmaker backing McCarthy took it a step further. After receiving several emails each day about the allegations, the lawmaker brought up the issue directly with close McCarthy allies.
“I didn’t blow it off,” the Midwest lawmaker told The Hill on Thursday. “I asked some direct questions of key people who should know Kevin very well. They said no. One of his closest friends and confidants told me, he knows Kevin and there has never been any indication or evidence or any suggested activities that would have indicated that was true.”