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McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid

McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMaxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Conservatives fear Trump will cut immigration deal MORE has begun courting some of his conservative colleagues to support a bid to replace Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.), according to several GOP lawmakers.

While the California Republican has not formally thrown his hat into the ring, McCarthy has been making moves behind the scenes to start locking down some of the key votes that will be needed to succeed Ryan.

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“McCarthy and I have been good friends from day one. We’ve talked about it. In fact, we’ve talked about it before and after [Ryan’s retirement announcement],” said one leading conservative lawmaker.

GOP leaders have repeatedly insisted that they are not focused on any leadership race, which Ryan plans to hold after the November midterm elections, and are instead focused on maintaining their majority in the House.

McCarthy, who has long been viewed as a potential Speaker-in-waiting, was elevated to front-runner status in the race after Ryan officially endorsed McCarthy to be his successor last week.

But while many in the House GOP conference view the No. 2 Republican as the heir apparent, they also warn that there are a number of potential landmines standing between McCarthy and the Speaker’s gavel.

Nearly three years ago, McCarthy was the odds-on favorite to succeed then-retiring Speaker John Boehner (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. And if McCarthy falters on the way to 218 votes on the floor, House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter GOP candidate says he chose bad 'metaphor' with face-stomping comments Democrats must end mob rule MORE (R-La.) is waiting in the wings.

The far-right House Freedom Caucus is one of the conservative factions that could play a pivotal role in the race, as the band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners has enough members to block any hopeful from securing the votes needed to win.

Even before Ryan’s formal retirement announcement, Freedom Caucus members said there had been conversations with McCarthy about a future bid for the Speaker’s gavel.

“It’s been implied for some weeks now,” Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryCook Political Report moves 4 GOP seats to 'toss-up' category Conservative group pledges .5 million for 12 House GOP candidates Lawmaker lists fake Sacha Baron Cohen award on campaign site MORE (R-Pa.) told The Hill. “There’s just been conversations.”

“No one has talked about it directly,” he added.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate MORE (R-N.C.) said McCarthy has been making an effort to improve his relationship with the group, and he hinted that the Speaker’s race came up in conversations on the House floor earlier this year.

Some Republicans have observed that McCarthy has been spending more time with Freedom Caucus members in the back of the House chamber during votes.

And one Republican said McCarthy has even been sending birthday cards to some members.

The majority leader has also been working with the Trump administration on a rescissions package to claw back some of the spending hikes that were adopted in the $1.3 trillion omnibus last month — a move that could appease some of the House conservatives who were outraged by the government funding bill’s massive price tag.

“That will be a symbolic measure that won’t get enacted,” retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told The Hill last week. “So why are we doing a rescission package? Out of fear that this could affect climbing up the leadership ladder.”