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 McCarthyWhite House calls Democratic witness's mentioning of president's youngest son 'classless' Republicans disavow GOP candidate who said 'we should hang' Omar Nunes accuses Democrats of promoting 'conspiracy theories' MORE has a clear path to succeeding Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDuncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden Trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and hardly a voice of caution to be heard 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 TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report 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 MeadowsGOP lawmakers, Trump campaign rip 'liberal law professors' testifying in impeachment hearing Live coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses House Republicans on Judiciary strategize ahead of Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerNC rep explores Tillis primary challenge Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps On The Money: Trump opens surprise new front in trade war | Trump official proposes tariffs on .4B in French goods | US manufacturing contracts for fourth straight month MORE, both North Carolina Republicans, could challenge McCarthy, lawmakers predicted.

A third North Carolina Republican, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryFed's top regulator takes heat from both parties NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps 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 HensarlingLawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? MORE (Texas) as the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.

Then there’s Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublicans disavow GOP candidate who said 'we should hang' Omar Nunes accuses Democrats of promoting 'conspiracy theories' Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial 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 BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director 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 WebsterCongress can't even study gun violence unless it changes the law Judd Gregg: Pelosi's olive branch...sort of Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade 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 CantorMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 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 BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director 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 DentEx-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they're 'disgusted and exhausted' by Trump Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps 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.”