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 RyanBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors MORE (R-Wis.) as Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyCalifornia sues Trump administration over fracking Trump: Impeachment timing intended to hurt Sanders Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 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 TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE’s top allies on Capitol Hill.

“Kevin is in a very strong position,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeDemocrats don't expect to do 2020 budget The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks 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.”

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“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 BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats 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 AmashOvernight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall House votes to send impeachment articles to Senate Amash: Trump claim about US embassy threats 'seems to be totally made up' 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 Massie2 Democrats say they voted against war powers resolution 'because it merely restated existing law' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week NY Times's Haberman: Trump 'surprised' Iranian strike wasn't 'more of a unifying event' 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 AmodeiBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Trump's defenders are running out of options Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let's not allow impeachment to divide us 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 DentThe biggest political upsets of the decade Ex-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 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 welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' Republicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night 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 JordanSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Trump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial Five lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate 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.