House

Trump and son signal support for McCarthy as next Speaker

Greg Nash

At a private fundraiser at his namesake hotel, President Trump on Thursday night appeared to back Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (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 Ryan (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.

{mosads}“The president had a fantastic speech talking about all our accomplishments,” said Rep. Tom Graves (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., 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 Lewandowski 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 Boehner (R-Ohio).

Ryan publicly endorsed McCarthy earlier this year, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (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 Perry. 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 Kushner, 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 Jordan (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.

Tags Boehner Corey Lewandowski Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Jared Kushner Jim Jordan John Boehner Kevin McCarthy Paul Ryan Rick Perry Steve Scalise Tom Graves

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