McCarthy seeks shift from party’s civil war

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is desperately looking to change the subject from his own party’s civil war to a common opponent: President Biden.

McCarthy and other GOP lawmakers will travel to Houston on Tuesday to rail against what they call Biden’s “job-killing” energy policies. The GOP leader previously spent several days accusing Biden of dragging his feet in reopening schools and knocking his administration’s plan to give COVID-19 vaccinations to Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

The efforts are a reprieve for McCarthy, who is otherwise the touchstone of an internecine battle ripping apart his party as it charts a path forward after former President Trump’s defeat and departure from Washington.

Yet the attacks on Biden have done little to take the pressure off McCarthy, who faces a series of challenges ranging from committee assignments for controversial first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to the leadership role of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) after she voted to impeach Trump.

Democrats are threatening to hold a floor vote later this week to boot Greene from the Education and Budget committees unless McCarthy removes her first.

Greene voiced support for executing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and has endorsed wild conspiracy theories that the 9/11 attacks and Sandy Hook and Parkland, Fla., school shootings were hoaxes. On Monday, she appeared to walk back some of her assertions, calling the school shootings “not fake” during an interview with OAN.

The problem for McCarthy is that Greene has the backing of Trump, who remains the dominant force in the party and whom Republicans will need to help excite the base to win back the House and Senate in next year’s midterm elections.

McCarthy will sit down with Greene as early as Tuesday, though he’s given no indication about what he’s decided.

On Wednesday, McCarthy will lead a gathering of rank-and-file Republicans — a private “family meeting” — as conservatives plot to oust Cheney from the No. 3 leadership post.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) are circulating a petition calling for Cheney to step down as conference chairwoman, arguing she hasn’t represented the views of most GOP lawmakers.

Two-thirds of Republicans would need to agree to hold a vote to remove Cheney; otherwise, the issue would be sent to an ad hoc committee likely to be made up of leadership allies who likely would rule in favor of Cheney. McCarthy has said he has concerns with Cheney’s impeachment vote but doesn’t support her ouster. 

Multiple lawmakers said they expect Wednesday’s meeting to be “tense,” pointing to a similar one last summer during which conservatives and Cheney quarreled over her decision to support the primary opponent of conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), which she later retracted after controversial comments from the candidate emerged. 

“I think you’ll have, you know, three constituencies in our conference — those who want to drive out the populists, those who want to drive out the establishment and those who simply want peace,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the ringleaders trying to oust Cheney, told The Hill on Monday. 

It’s nearly two years before voters go to the polls for the midterms, but the divisions are a worry for the party.

McCarthy has sought to get members to stop attacking one another, but his calls for unity have been unsuccessful amid the tensions over the deadly riot at the Capitol and Trump’s impeachment.

Gaetz flew to Cheney’s home state last week and rallied hundreds in support of her removal.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who along with Cheney and eight other Republicans voted to impeach Trump, said he will launch a political action committee taking aim at Republicans who align with Trump and embrace “poisonous conspiracies and lies.”

There’s still plenty of time for the warring factions to unite, and McCarthy is eager to turn the page on the slew of bad headlines.

Democrats hold just a 221-211 majority, putting the Speakership in McCarthy’s grasp.

The tensions roiling the GOP point to an existential crisis within the post-Trump party, and McCarthy has come under intense criticism for his handling of the various controversies.

Even as Greene promulgated a conspiracy theory that the deadly 2018 California wildfires were started by lasers from space controlled by a powerful Jewish family, McCarthy, a California native, laid low, refusing to condemn her and instead playing up his party’s policy disagreements with Biden.

On the issue of giving COVID-19 vaccinations to Guantánamo Bay prisoners, McCarthy scored a victory when administration officials, recognizing the poor optics, paused the program just two hours after the GOP leader criticized it in a tweet.

Building on that success, McCarthy will take another jab at Biden on Tuesday, when he and nine other House Republicans will travel to Enterprise Products in Houston to speak to local media about how Biden’s suite of executive orders — including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and halting new mining, oil and gas leases on federal lands — will kill American jobs and damage energy-producing hubs. 

McCarthy will be joined by Texas GOP Reps. Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Brian Babin, Michael McCaul, Randy Weber, Michael Cloud and Troy Nehls and first-term Reps. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), who both ousted Democratic incumbents last fall.   

“As conservatives, it is up to us to hold this administration accountable to do the right thing for all Americans,” McCarthy said in a recent letter to Republicans. “We must measure every appropriate proposal from the Biden administration with one simple question: will it help? Will it help restore our way of life, rebuild our economy, or renew the American dream?”

The way McCarthy sees it, if Republicans can make peace with each other, zero in on Biden and make the 2022 midterms a referendum on his “socialist” policies, they can flip enough seats to take back the majority.

Democrats, however, argued there’s little McCarthy can do to separate himself from extremists in his party after he refused to condemn Greene and backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

“The House Republican Conference has been infected by the QAnon caucus, the conspiracy caucus and the cover-up caucus at the same time, and Kevin McCarthy continues to bury his head in the sand and sees fit to go play footsie with Donald Trump down in Mar-a-Lago,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) said on MSNBC, pointing to the GOP leader’s meeting with Trump in Florida last week. 

“That’s disgraceful. He is embarrassing, and he’s a pathetic excuse of a leader.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Dan Crenshaw Donald Trump Hakeem Jeffries Kevin Brady Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Matt Gaetz Michael McCaul Nancy Pelosi Randy Weber Thomas Massie

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