Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP

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 McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay MORE (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 RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (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. 

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“I don’t think they can make the case [to remain] if they are in the majority or the minority,” Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (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 JonesWalter Beaman JonesHouse elects Pelosi to second Speakership GOP lawmaker suggests Trump use some of his own money to help pay for border wall Pelosi sees fierce resistance from White House if Dems seek Trump’s tax returns MORE (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 GosarPaul Anthony GosarMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown The 7 Republicans who voted against back pay for furloughed workers MORE (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 BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (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 LanceLeonard LanceIncoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (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 MassieThomas Harold MassieMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown The 7 Republicans who voted against back pay for furloughed workers MORE (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 TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE 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 MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona Abortion foes march into divided Washington McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (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 McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Local banks can lead bipartisan efforts on financial regulation Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown MORE (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 PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts Ellen DeGeneres buys cheesecakes from furloughed federal workers who were baking to make ends meet Trump teases 'major announcement' about shutdown on Saturday MORE (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 HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts Feehery: Why Democrats oppose the wall Feehery: How Republicans can counter the possible impeachment push MORE (R-Ill.) resigned from office and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE, then Hastert’s top deputy as majority leader, was elected minority leader. Hastert’s majority whip, then-Rep. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell: Senate won't override Trump veto on shutdown fight Senate immigration talks fall apart Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP MORE (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 RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices Washington governor announces killer whale recovery plan MORE (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 WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ore.), the House GOP’s campaign chief during the winning 2014 and 2016 cycles; Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTexas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law MORE (R-Texas), who just came off a big victory with the passage of tax reform; Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal Grijalva backs Bishop over current acting Interior Secretary Dems question legality of park fees during shutdown MORE (R-Utah), the former Speaker of the Utah state House; and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFlorida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor Corker: Breakthrough reached in shutdown stalemate Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  MORE (R-N.C.).

Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify MORE (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 WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergCongress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Midterm results shake up national map Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (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.”