GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House

GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House
© Greg Nash

Republicans say House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit On The Money: Congress, White House aim to include debt limit increase in spending deal | McConnell optimistic budget deal near | Carson defends HUD eviction plan | Senate votes to undo tax hike on Gold Star families MORE has a clear path to succeeding Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (Wis.) in November — if Republicans lose the House and he runs for minority leader.

The California Republican would need just a majority vote of the GOP conference and not 218 votes — a threshold he couldn’t meet during his failed bid for Speaker in 2015 — to become minority leader.

 And that threshold is within reach for someone considered President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE’s closest ally on the Hill, who regularly travels the country raising cash for his colleagues, several GOP lawmakers said.

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“Hopefully in November, we’re talking about a third term for Speaker Ryan,” said one House GOP lawmaker. “But if that’s not the case, I think Kevin’s the guy, and that comes from a more conservative member.”

Most Republicans on the Hill expect Ryan will retire from Congress if energized Democrats can flip control of the House. That would almost certainly trigger a race for Republican leader between McCarthy and perhaps a more conservative, red-state challenger.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsChristopher Steele's nugget of fool's gold was easily disproven — but FBI didn't blink an eye Amash storm hits Capitol Hill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again MORE and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerNCAA to consider allowing student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Colorado state senators plan to introduce bill to let NCAA athletes get paid MORE, both North Carolina Republicans, could challenge McCarthy, lawmakers predicted.

A third North Carolina Republican, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryExport-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Top Financial Services Republican presses regulators on Dodd-Frank rollbacks Dems digging into Trump finances post-Mueller MORE, also has been floated as a dark horse candidate, though lawmakers close to him said he’s more inclined to run to replace retiring Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingMaxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve Ex-GOP congressman heads to investment bank The next two years of federal housing policy could be positive under Mark Calabria MORE (Texas) as the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.

Then there’s Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Trump hits Amash after congressman doubles down on impeachment talk Trump encouraged Scalise to run for governor in Louisiana: report MORE (R-La.), who is just behind McCarthy in the leadership pecking order. Scalise has seen his stock soar on Capitol Hill ever since last summer, when he survived a mass shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.

While he’s not expected to directly challenge McCarthy, Scalise will be waiting in the wings should the Californian stumble like he did three years ago, when he abruptly dropped out of the race for Speaker amid doubts he could cobble together the necessary 218 votes. After John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment Amash storm hits Capitol Hill MORE’s (R-Ohio) resignation, the Speaker’s gavel was passed to Ryan, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, rather than McCarthy, who stayed on as the No. 2 GOP leader.

Ryan has said he and his wife have not yet decided about whether he’ll run for reelection this fall (the filing deadline in Wisconsin is June 1), but it’s possible the Speaker steps down in the event House Republicans lose seats but hang on to a slim majority.

In that scenario, a second GOP lawmaker surmised, Scalise, not McCarthy, is more likely to succeed Ryan as Speaker given McCarthy’s past problems getting to 218 votes on the House floor. In the 2015 Speaker’s race, the Freedom Caucus — a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners— threw its support behind Rep. Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterJudd Gregg: Pelosi's olive branch...sort of Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers MORE (R-Fla.), scuttling McCarthy’s chances.

History could repeat itself if McCarthy once again vies for the Speaker’s gavel.

“I’ve always thought if we retain the majority and Paul leaves, it’s more likely to be Scalise than McCarthy,” the lawmaker said.

In the minority, however, the top job would be “McCarthy’s to lose,” several lawmakers agreed.

“I think there will be a play from the right. But will it be the Freedom Caucus 30 or will it be a larger movement? And would Scalise lead it? I don’t know,” said a third GOP lawmaker who is close to leadership. “But if McCarthy shows strength and there’s no opening, then I think McCarthy stays on as leader.”

While his colleagues certainly won’t forget McCarthy’s failed bid for Speaker, many say that episode from three years ago won’t diminish his chances of winning the top job next time.

“I don’t think he did anything wrong last time. I think he just read the mood of the group at that point and made a judgment that was appropriate,” said a fourth GOP lawmaker who knows McCarthy well. “I certainly don’t think he did anything he needs to be a ashamed of. He’s got a great track record.”

McCarthy, 53, has had a quick ascent in Washington. At age 19, he opened Kevin O’s deli in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif. He went on to serve as district director for then-Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), won election to the state Assembly in 2002, then succeeded Thomas in the U.S. House in 2006.

After the 2008 election, then-Minority Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (R-Va.) tapped McCarthy as his chief deputy whip, a move that brought him into the leadership circle. When Republicans took back the House in 2010, Cantor rose to majority leader and McCarthy claimed the No. 3 job as majority whip, the GOP’s top vote counter.

But four years later, Cantor, the heir apparent to then-Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment Amash storm hits Capitol Hill MORE, stunned the political world by losing his GOP primary to a relatively unknown Tea Party activist named Dave Brat. McCarthy easily won election as the next majority leader, becoming the second most powerful lawmaker in the House just seven years after arriving in Washington.

That wasn’t a coincidence. McCarthy’s ability to connect with strangers and build relationships on the Hill is legendary. And during his time in leadership, he’s traveled around the country, frantically raising money for his GOP colleagues — political gestures that won’t be forgotten the next time he asks for their vote.

On Monday, McCarthy’s political team said that it transferred $1.2 million from his campaign coffers to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm. That brought Team McCarthy’s contributions to the NRCC to more than $7 million for the 2018 cycle. McCarthy’s office had no additional comment.

“Since I’ve been here, McCarthy has grown his support more and more,” said the first GOP lawmaker, who like the others requested anonymity so he could discuss future leadership races. “He’s been very helpful to me and been very helpful to others, from mentorship to fundraising.”

The other thing McCarthy has working in his favor: He’s incredibly close with Trump. And GOP sources say Trump, who values loyalty above all else, will play a critical role in helping to choose the next leadership team after the midterm elections.

“I think the president will have an outsized role in all of these discussions. Most members will be asking how can that leadership team interact with the White House and the president,” said one GOP source. “Obviously, McCarthy has a strong relationship with the president.”

For his part, Ryan isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Last year, he hauled in $44 million, sending $32 million of that to the NRCC. And he recently returned from fundraising trips to Missouri and Florida to raise cash for colleagues.

Speaking to an audience in his home state of Wisconsin recently, Ryan exuded confidence about the GOP’s prospects in 2018. “We are going to win!” he declared.

But many of Ryan’s House colleagues aren’t so sure, pointing to the wave of GOP retirements this cycle and the fact that the president’s party loses 32 seats on average during the midterm election. Democrats only need a net gain of 24 seats to take back the House.

“We all know this cycle is very challenging for House Republicans, and the House is very much in play,” said Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentCNN celebrates correspondents' weekend with New Orleans-themed brunch The Hill's Morning Report - Government is funded, but for how long? Ex-GOP lawmaker says his party is having a 'Monty Python' moment on shutdown MORE (R-Pa.), one of dozens of senior Republicans who have opted not to run for reelection. “I’m not saying it’s going to flip but it’s very much at risk.”