McCarthy faces headaches from far-right House GOP

Kevin McCarthy is taking fire from all sides.

The House minority leader and California Republican is facing a barrage of criticism from far-right lawmakers skeptical of his conservative credentials and loyalty to former President Trump. 

Vocal GOP Trump critics like Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Nancy Mace (S.C.), are pressing McCarthy to take a tougher approach with a small band of conservative rabble-rousers whose incendiary comments and antics have caused unnecessary distractions for the GOP.

Meanwhile, Democrats are accusing McCarthy of being spineless, showing a blind fealty to Trump and posing a threat to democracy.

It all adds up to mounting headaches for McCarthy, who is struggling to manage the warring pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions in his conference, complicating his path to the Speaker’s office even if Republicans win back the House next year.

McCarthy is between “a rock and a hard spot,” Mace told reporters Wednesday.

“It’s a tough position. This isn’t about herding cats. Everybody is a Type-A personality to get here, so it’s like herding ravenous lions,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), explaining McCarthy’s challenge.

“It’s a thankless job to be in that position, it’s nothing I would ever want to do,” Loudermilk added, “but you have to find that balance.”

The House Republican Conference that McCarthy is hoping to lead in 2023 has only gotten more extreme and more divided since he first joined his party’s top leadership ranks as majority whip a decade ago. And the far-right flank remains a difficult constituency to satisfy, as it was in 2015 when it thwarted McCarthy’s last attempt to win the Speaker’s gavel.

While pundits and poll watchers still expect Republicans to flip at least five seats and take back the House next year, some members of the party say the infighting isn’t helpful as they try to make the case that they’d be better at governing than Democrats.

“We have to be unified. The only people that could keep us from winning the majority right now is us,” Loudermilk said.

During a closed-door meeting Wednesday, McCarthy echoed that message, urging rank-and-file Republicans to stop getting into ugly public spats with each other.

“Congress is not junior high,” McCarthy said.

While “99 percent were doing the right thing,” McCarthy said, he urged the remaining 1 percent of his conference to get in line and stop making public predictions about the Speaker’s race that is a year away, according to a source in the room.

McCarthy allies point out that he was unanimously elected minority leader last year; has traversed the country and raised more money for the party than any other House member; and continues to speak frequently with Trump, who headlined a House GOP fundraising dinner in Tampa this month. 

His 1 percent comments Wednesday appear to be aimed at two of the most frequent far-right provocateurs, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.), who’ve openly warned that McCarthy doesn’t yet have the votes needed to become Speaker if Republicans win the House majority. Both Greene and Gaetz have called on McCarthy to oust moderate Rep. John Katko (N.Y.) from the top GOP spot on the Homeland Security Committee for being one of 13 House Republicans who bucked leadership and Trump when he voted for President Biden’s infrastructure package.

McCarthy has quietly tried to defuse the situation, referring the matter to an internal committee that he controls.

“I think it’s problematic that John Katko is still the Republican leader of the Homeland Security Committee. I think that sends a bad message to current members, to leadership and even to our field of candidates,” Gaetz told The Hill.

Gaetz recently hosted Greene on his podcast, where the Georgia congresswoman said McCarthy was short of the 218 votes required to be elected Speaker. Greene, Gaetz said Wednesday, “has her finger on the pulse of the country and the conference.” 

Greene was also involved in the latest GOP-on-GOP fight, featuring Twitter schoolyard taunts for all to see.

On Tuesday, Greene tweeted that Mace, who represents a swing district, was “the trash in the GOP conference.” The cause of her ire? Mace’s condemnation of Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-Colo.) Islamophobic comments suggesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is Muslim, could be a terrorist.

Mace in turn called Greene “batshit crazy” and “nuts,” using a pointedly chosen set of emojis.

Time and again in recent weeks, McCarthy has had to deal with chaos sown by members of his conference.

McCarthy was in the same position two weeks ago when he sought to tamp down an effort by Greene and other far-right members to take away committee seats from the 13 House Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

That all came as conservatives fumed over Democrats — along with two Republicans, Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — voting to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and take away his committee assignments for tweeting an anime video depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

And on Wednesday, members of the House Freedom Caucus pushed Senate GOP leaders to prevent passage of a stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown on Saturday unless Democrats agreed to defund Biden’s vaccine-or-testing requirements for federal workers and businesses.

“As minority leader, [McCarthy] does a great job of leading our conference. It’s unfortunate that he has to waste time on these intra-party squabbles,” said one GOP lawmaker.

Democrats, meanwhile, seized on the latest round of GOP infighting to argue that McCarthy is in over his head as they seek to defend their narrow majority.

“The so-called leader has no control over what’s happening,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the Democratic caucus chairman, said of McCarthy. “We think this guy and this conference is gonna solve problems on behalf of the American people? They can’t.”

Democrats are mulling whether to take action on their own against Boebert for her Islamophobic attacks on Omar, similar to how they moved unilaterally to kick Greene and Gosar off House committees.

Two progressive allies of Omar, Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), have called for removing Boebert from committees. But Democratic leaders haven’t yet decided whether to go that route or to issue a resolution broadly condemning Islamophobia.

“These people do not respect the House that they serve in. We have to make sure that the public understands that we do,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told House Democrats on Wednesday.

Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ayanna Pressley Barry Loudermilk Donald Trump Hakeem Jeffries Ilhan Omar Joe Biden John Katko Kevin McCarthy Lauren Boebert Liz Cheney Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Nancy Mace Nancy Pelosi Paul Gosar
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