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McCarthy's path to Speaker gets more complicated
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) path to the Speakership just got a little more complicated.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, threw his hat into the ring for Speaker on Thursday, part of a strategy to extract concessions from the front-runner in exchange for support from the bloc of roughly 30 conservative rabble-rousers.
And the Freedom Caucus isn't the only group considering withholding Speaker votes in order to strike a deal - the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and Texas GOP delegation are also thinking about what they can get in return for their votes.
The growing list of groups underscore how McCarthy, or any viable candidate for Speaker, is going to have to meet certain demands to secure the gavel if Republicans keep the House in November.
"Most Members will want something in exchange for their vote," said one GOP aide. "But most - other caucuses included - will ultimately go along with the majority candidate at the end of the day. The Freedom Caucus is not that type of group, and is the one group to watch because of what they will get in exchange for their vote."
While McCarthy hasn't publicly announced he is running for Speaker, he has made it known he wants the job. But if he falters like he did in 2015, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will be waiting in the wings.
Retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has already backed McCarthy, his chief deputy and heir apparent, to succeed him.
"I support Kevin McCarthy, everybody knows that," Ryan reiterated Thursday.
A large swath of the GOP conference is also backing McCarthy, a prolific fundraiser and close ally of President Trump.
"I believe Leader McCarthy will be our next Speaker, and I'm backing him," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told The Hill.
But McCarthy's support from big-name lawmakers wasn't enough to deter Jordan, who launched his long-shot bid for Speaker just before House lawmakers left for the August recess.
His announcement also came a day after Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - an issue that has become a rallying cry among conservatives.
"Jordan's announcement and Meadows' endorsement is a clear indication the Freedom Caucus is looking for an alternative to McCarthy," said another GOP aide. "This is the exact same problem [McCarthy] had last time when he couldn't close the deal. He clearly doesn't have the votes."
Jordan is unlikely to secure the 218 votes needed to become Speaker, and not just because he has made many enemies in the conference with his strong-arm tactics. The Ohio Republican is also battling allegations that he turned a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse on the Ohio State University wrestling team when he was an assistant coach there decades ago.
But Jordan will almost certainly have the support of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that has the numbers to veto any Speaker candidate if they don't get what they want.
The group's wishlist could include requests ranging from an overhaul of how the chamber conducts legislative business to votes on specific pieces of legislation. They might also want plum committee assignments and chairmanships for caucus members.
Jordan is thought to be angling for the Oversight and Government Reform Committee gavel, which will be available next year.
"Right now, there's just a handful of people at the top who make all the decisions. That's not fair," Jordan, a member of the Oversight panel, told Fox News on Friday. "Nine committee chairmanships open up next year. I don't think a few people at the top should decide who chairs the committee. Why not let people on the committee say this is the person who is best capable of leading this committee?"
The conservative caucus could also request a spot at the leadership table - a bigger ask but not unprecedented. In 2015, the Freedom Caucus pressed McCarthy to make one of their members majority leader.
When McCarthy couldn't deliver on that request, he felt he didn't have enough support to preside over the GOP conference and ultimately dropped his bid, paving the way for Ryan to become Speaker.
If McCarthy were to stumble again, many GOP lawmakers believe Scalise, the No. 3 Republican, will make a concerted bid for the gavel.
He may already be positioning himself to do so.
During this past week's initial push to impeach Rosenstein, some lawmakers said Scalise may have gained the edge with conservatives when he backed the resolution, while McCarthy avoided taking a definitive stance on the issue.
"This is a big win for Steve Scalise," one conservative lawmaker told The Hill.
Negotiating with conservatives to earn their support for Speaker isn't new territory. Ryan made several promises to the Freedom Caucus in 2015, from agreeing not to bring up immigration legislation under former President Obama to bringing bills to the floor only if they have support from a majority of Republicans.
But the other groups taking a page out of the Freedom Caucus playbook have added a new twist.
Politico reported on Tuesday that several members of the Texas delegation, the largest GOP delegation in the House, are considering making their Speaker votes contingent on Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) getting the Appropriations Committee gavel.
And the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a 48-member group evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, is encouraging lawmakers to only vote for a Speaker candidate who agrees to enact a package of rules reforms that includes giving fast-track consideration to any bill with widespread support and make it harder to oust the House Speaker.
But those strategies require enough members from each group to withhold their Speaker votes. That's why the Problem Solvers Caucus is seeking as many public commitments as possible from lawmakers before the midterms, knowing that pressure to toe the party line will shift dramatically after Election Day.
"I don't think anybody has a cake walk, and quite honestly, it shouldn't be a cake walk" to become Speaker, said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who is supporting Jordan.
"These are important positions that have a great impact on our country, and it's important that anyone that's running for any position of trust and authority like that go out and earn that, and tell folks why they should have that position," he told The Hill.
- Scott Wong and Juliegrace Brufke contributed