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 TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE on Thursday night appeared to back Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFive takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders comes under fire over cost of 'Medicare for All' Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury 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 RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' 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 GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms 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 TrumpTrump Jr., Meadows wear matching Trump jackets on 'Fox & Friends' Group auctioning off hunting trip with Donald Trump Jr. Trump allies to barnstorm Iowa for caucuses 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 - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Trump campaign chief relocating to Washington: report Lewandowski decides against Senate bid 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 BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE (R-Ohio).

Ryan publicly endorsed McCarthy earlier this year, and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise after Democrat asks for examples of Sanders supporters 'being bad': 'I can think of an example' Bottom line Pelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing 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 PerryRick PerryTop National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Overnight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative Rick Perry to rejoin dental insurance company as chief strategy officer 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 declares US-India relationship 'stronger than ever before' Trumps tour Taj Mahal to cap off first day in India The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate 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 JordanTwitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium 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.