Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP

Greg Nash

Here’s a twist: Some congressional Republicans say it’s possible neither Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will be serving in House leadership after the November midterm elections.

McCarthy and Scalise  are seen as the front-runners to succeed Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but there is a contingent of conservatives who are agitating to throw out the entire current leadership team — particularly if a blue wave washes over the House and Democrats take back the lower chamber in November. 

{mosads}“I don’t think they can make the case [to remain] if they are in the majority or the minority,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a vocal member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. “I think you have to change the leadership team dramatically to get things back on track for our country. If that means changing all the members of leadership, then so be it.

“They haven’t succeeded in defending the American people — and that means defending all Americans from all backgrounds, from all political viewpoints.”

Added longtime Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.): “We need a new look, and a new look doesn’t mean you go back to the past; you look to go to the future.”

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus member, said he wouldn’t back anyone for a leadership job who helped draft or push through the $1.3 trillion omnibus government funding bill last month that included higher spending figures for defense and domestic programs.

“Right now, I’m not interested in anybody in the current leadership team because the system is so broken. We need someone to come out, maybe someone who is not a member of Congress, because good policy builds good politics. What we just did is horrendous policy,” Gosar said of the omnibus package.

“I don’t even want to stick with that team now. I want a new team.”

Leadership allies point out these critics are the same hard-line conservatives who pressured then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign in the fall of 2015 and who have been a thorn in Ryan’s side for the past 2 1/2 years.

And for every conservative lawmaker wanting a clean slate, there are many more Republicans arguing that the current team will mostly stay intact, no matter what happens in the elections.

“I think our team is a good team,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) told The Hill. “I have confidence in the leadership team that we have.”

But the conservative Freedom Caucus, and its allies like Jones and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), could play an enormous role in selecting the next GOP Speaker. If the bloc of roughly 30 conservatives band together, they can prevent McCarthy, Scalise or anyone else from securing the required 218 votes needed to win the gavel on the House floor.

No one has 218 votes as of now, one reason why Ryan has not called new leadership elections in the middle of the term. And even if President Trump weighs in on behalf of McCarthy, his close ally on Capitol Hill, there are no guarantees the majority leader would be able to reach the magic number.

Trump’s “voice will certainly have a strong influence on who’s going to lead the party going forward,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters. But he added: “No one has the votes to get to 218. … There is no one in this body who can be the Speaker other than Speaker Ryan.”

McCarthy, Ryan’s top lieutenant whom he endorsed over the weekend, would have a much easier path to be elected minority leader if Democrats flip control of the House this fall. According to House GOP rules, a minority leader only needs to win a simple majority of the entire Republican conference, a figure much lower than 218 or half of the entire 435-member House.

But some conservative voices in the GOP conference are warning that an anti-Trump, Democratic wave election won’t just wash Republicans out of the majority — it would also sweep Ryan’s entire leadership team out of power.

That could mean McCarthy, Scalise, and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) could be overthrown as rank-and-file Republicans seek to press the reset button.

“If there is a blue wave and we lose it,” said one leading House conservative, “I can’t imagine that there would be a constituency who would suggest we keep a losing leadership team in power.”

Losing is so much on the mind of one House Republican than he’s been joking with GOP colleagues that he’s running for “minority leader” this fall.

Even after Democrats lost the House majority in the 2010 Tea Party wave election, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was able to hang on to control and stay on as minority leader.

On the GOP side of the aisle, there isn’t a clear precedent. In the wake of House Republicans’ defeat in 2006, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) resigned from office and Boehner, then Hastert’s top deputy as majority leader, was elected minority leader. Hastert’s majority whip, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), stuck around for one term as minority whip before leaving for the Senate.

“It should be” a complete house cleaning if Republicans lose the chamber this fall, said another House GOP lawmaker. “That’s the mistake the Democrats made in keeping Nancy Pelosi around after losing the House. She’s kept us in the majority. That was their mistake.”

It’s unclear who exactly could step up and lead the GOP conference in a massive shake-up. Would House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the only woman in leadership, be spared? As the No. 4 leader, she mostly manages the 237-member conference, its meetings and its retreats, though she also attends political strategy sessions.

Other names floated by GOP lawmakers include Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the House GOP’s campaign chief during the winning 2014 and 2016 cycles; Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who just came off a big victory with the passage of tax reform; Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the former Speaker of the Utah state House; and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.).

Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has also said he’s interested in running for Speaker or another leadership post, though he’s seen as a long shot.

Asked by The Hill this week if he would consider the Speakership if no one else can reach 218 votes, Brady replied that his “best contribution for our party is right here as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. That’s where I intend to stay.”

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), a leadership ally, is siding with Ryan in supporting McCarthy for Speaker. But he said either McCarthy or Scalise would make “excellent Speakers” because “they’ve shown loyalty to the conference.”

Still, Walberg added that he “can’t guarantee” that McCarthy or Scalise will still be in leadership next year “with the Freedom Caucus and others making their play.”

Tags Boehner Cathy McMorris Rodgers Dennis Hastert Donald Trump Greg Walden Jim Jordan John Boehner Justin Amash Kevin Brady Kevin McCarthy Leonard Lance Mark Meadows Mark Walker Nancy Pelosi Patrick McHenry Paul Gosar Paul Ryan Rob Bishop Roy Blunt Steve Scalise Thomas Massie Tim Walberg Walter Jones

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