Trump and son signal support for McCarthy as next Speaker

Trump and son signal support for McCarthy as next Speaker
© Greg Nash

At a private fundraiser at his namesake hotel, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE on Thursday night appeared to back Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Lawmakers say Zuckerberg has agreed to 'cooperate' with antitrust probe MORE (R-Calif.) to be the next Speaker, several attendees told The Hill.

Speaking to high-dollar donors and House GOP lawmakers, Trump wished retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) well, then turned to a different table, pointed at McCarthy, and said he looks forward to working with McCarthy next.

Several lawmakers in the room said they interpreted Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks to mean that he was supporting McCarthy, the No. 2 GOP leader, to succeed Ryan as Speaker of the House next year.

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“The president had a fantastic speech talking about all our accomplishments,” said Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesModernize Congress to make it work for the people 5 Republicans who could replace Isakson in Georgia's Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE (R-Ga.), a key McCarthy ally who was among 60 GOP lawmakers who attended the closed-door fundraiser inside the Trump International Hotel near the White House.

“It was a really neat farewell of the relationship that he’s had with Paul Ryan, and as he was wishing Paul well, he looked at Kevin and said, ‘I look forward to working with you,’ ” Graves told The Hill.

While not an explicit endorsement of McCarthy, Trump’s remarks represented the clearest indication yet that the president sees Ryan’s top deputy stepping into the Speaker’s office should Republicans retain control of the House in November.

Lawmakers at the fundraiser said other Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpDemocrats introduce bill to block taxpayer-funded spending at Trump properties Trump dismisses NYT explanation on Kavanaugh correction The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE, also expressed support for McCarthy to be the next Speaker. The younger Trump and his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, were among those in attendance, as were Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy Cruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt MORE and David Bossie, who held top roles in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“At last night’s event at the Trump Hotel, there were several clear examples of the Trump family rallying behind Kevin McCarthy for Speaker,” said a second GOP lawmaker. “Kim was explicit, but [Trump] Jr. made clear his loyalties, too.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. And a McCarthy spokesman declined to comment for this story. But in an interview with Fox News on Friday morning, McCarthy praised Trump’s speech at the fundraiser.

“With everything going on, the president was so poised. He was so focused on what more needs to be done,” McCarthy told Fox.

McCarthy’s path to the Speakership is far from certain. Not only will Republicans need to hold the House in a extremely difficult, anti-Trump political environment. He would need to win support from 218 Republicans on the House floor in January — something he failed to do three years ago during his unsuccessful bid to replace then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio).

Ryan publicly endorsed McCarthy earlier this year, and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise blasts Democratic legislation on gun reforms Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran On The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes MORE (R-La.), the No. 3 GOP leader, has said he will not challenge McCarthy for the Speaker’s gavel. But Scalise has been campaigning for colleagues across the country and staking out positions to the right of McCarthy, endearing himself to conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus.  

If McCarthy stumbles in his second attempt to become Speaker, Scalise will be waiting in the wings, prepared to dive into the race for the top leadership post.

About 300 people attended the fundraiser, which was hosted by Protect the House, the joint political action committee run by McCarthy and Vice President Pence to maintain the Republican majority in the House.

Thursday night’s dinner in a Trump Hotel ballroom raised $15 million to shore up vulnerable House members in the November midterms. Trump Jr. spoke first, followed by Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryGas prices could rise 15 to 30 cents following Saudi attack Trump envoy presses Saudi Arabia to allow nuclear inspections Perry confident energy market 'will rebound positively' after Saudi oil attack MORE. McCarthy later introduced the president to the crowd.

Others in the room downplayed Trump’s shout out to McCarthy, saying that Scalise is close to the president and his family as well. During his speech Thursday night, Trump also heaped praise on Scalise, describing him as the “toughest man in town” after he survived a near-fatal gunshot wound during a congressional baseball practice last year.

And a couple weeks ago, Scalise went alligator hunting with Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle in Louisiana. The majority whip also recently hosted a lawmaker dinner with the president’s son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump officials mull plan to divert billions more to border wall: report California trip shows Trump doesn't always hate the media Trump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy MORE, and has been working with Kushner on the Canada trade issue.

“Scalise has strong ties to Trump family members, too,” said a GOP source.

Another GOP source close to the president is not expecting Trump to formally endorse a candidate for Speaker. The Freedom Caucus’s founding chairman, conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocrat accuses GOP of opposing DC statehood because of 'race and partisanship' The Hill Interview: Sanford says Trump GOP doing 'serious brand destruction' Trump slams Democrats as 'shameful' after Lewandowski hearing MORE (R-Ohio), is running against McCarthy for Speaker and is also an ally of Trump.  

“I would be extremely surprised if the president weighs in on the Speaker’s race with so many personal friendships on Capitol Hill,” the second source told The Hill. “There is no upside for him to do so.”

Melanie Zanona contributed.