McCarthy faces obstacles in Speaker bid

McCarthy faces obstacles in Speaker bid
© Greg Nash

Republican lawmakers see the race to succeed Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill MORE (R-Wis.) as Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFive takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming McCarthy calls on incoming Democrats to embrace bipartisanship, not 'food fight' or investigations MORE’s to lose.

As majority leader, the California Republican has the most direct path to the job. He’s also picked up an official endorsement from Ryan and is one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE’s top allies on Capitol Hill.

“Kevin is in a very strong position,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTrump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand Shutdown 'more than possible,' says top Senate appropriator MORE (R-Okla.), an ally of GOP leadership, told The Hill. “Our leadership team has rallied around him, he’s got a lot of goodwill, a lot of respect in our conference.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“I believe that Kevin is in a very strong position to be our next Speaker,” added Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), a member of the leadership team.

But there are a number of landmines standing between McCarthy and the Speaker’s gavel, including conservative opposition and the possibility that another candidate jumps into the race.

“This is politics. Nothing’s ever guaranteed. And nobody knows that better than Kevin McCarthy,” said Cole.

Nearly three years ago, McCarthy was the odds-on favorite to succeed retiring Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerOpening day of new Congress: Not always total joy Meadows looks to make his move Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority MORE (R-Ohio) before his bid collapsed, leading to Ryan’s rise.

The reason was conservative opposition, the same problem that could befall a McCarthy candidacy this year.

Some conservative members have vowed not to support any members of the leadership team for Speaker. Ryan’s endorsement has done little to change their minds.

“You have to totally change the order around here. It means a whole new group of people who are actually running the House that reflects the will of the people,” said Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashGOP lawmaker jokes about Trump's next Interior chief: It's going to be Mulvaney The real winner of the 2018 midterms: individual liberty Scarborough rips Graham for saying he’ll introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship: He’s ‘degrading’ himself for Trump MORE (R-Mich.), a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Time could also work against McCarthy.

Ryan is adamant that he plans to stick around as Speaker until January, saying he would not hold leadership elections until after the November midterms.

But some lawmakers on Capitol Hill predict it will be difficult for McCarthy to maintain his front-runner status for seven months. The longer his candidacy hangs out there, they say, the more time there will be to attract scrutiny.

“If this election goes six months, there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny once you become the favorite,” said libertarian Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year Senate poised to buck Trump on Saudi Arabia House Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress MORE (R-Ky.).

Supporters of McCarthy have been making this argument, arguing it is in his interest to move up the election.

McCarthy needs 218 votes on the floor to win the Speakership, however, and he’s not there yet.

There does not appear to be friction between McCarthy and Ryan, despite the Speaker’s desire to stay on through this Congress and the fact that McCarthy allies would like to have the election sooner.

And some Republicans say they believe Ryan should relinquish the gavel if McCarthy can show that he can reach the 218-vote threshold indicating that the conference will back him as the next Speaker in a floor vote.

"If you think you've got things ready to go, it's like hey, you probably ought to do it," said Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiRevitalize our defense industrial base with mine permitting reform To reduce China's leverage, rebuild America's minerals supply chain GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now MORE (R-Nev.).

If the GOP loses the House, it could be easier for McCarthy to be elected minority leader.

That vote would take place behind closed doors, and the winner would just need a simple majority of the conference.

Some members say they prefer that scenario to a pre-election floor vote.

“I’d rather Paul finish out his term as Speaker than go through the whole ordeal of selecting another Speaker,” said retiring Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentPennsylvania New Members 2019 Dem wins leave behind a more conservative GOP conference How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms MORE (R-Pa.).

Other candidates could still jump into the leadership fight, which would add another curveball in the Speaker’s race.

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House lawmakers delay decision on Saudi Arabia pending investigation MORE (R-La.) signaled in a statement following Ryan’s endorsement that he also would be backing McCarthy, but he is clearly waiting in the wings if McCarthy can’t get to 218 votes.

In the meantime, Scalise can make moves to bolster his chances; next month, he is slated to attend a breakfast fundraiser for Freedom Caucus Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.).

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — For Republicans, fight over fetal tissue research comes back to Planned Parenthood | CDC traces contaminated romaine lettuce to California farm | Dems aim to punt vote on ObamaCare taxes For Republicans, fight over fetal tissue research comes back to Planned Parenthood Meadows looks to make his move MORE (R-Ohio), a conservative ringleader and founding member of the Freedom Caucus, is also eyeing a Speaker’s bid.

It’s highly unlikely that the six-term lawmaker could garner the 218 votes needed to become Speaker. But if Jordan threw his hat in the ring, that could draw dozens of conservative votes away from the probable front-runner and step up the likelihood that McCarthy would seek to cut a deal with the Freedom Caucus.

The band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners has enough members to block any hopeful from securing the votes needed to win. The group may try to leverage their Speaker votes for the promise of better committee assignments or a spot at the leadership table.

The dynamic is a repeat of 2015, the last time McCarthy ran for Speaker. Freedom Caucus leaders attempted to cut a deal with him, promising to back him for the top job if he pledged support for one of their own conservative members to become majority leader.

“McCarthy couldn’t deliver that,” said one GOP lawmaker close to leadership last week. “They were asking for something he couldn’t deliver. But the truth is they’ve got the votes to ask for something significant.” 

Scott Wong contributed.