Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is in trouble before it starts

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After all the bad news for Republicans on Election Day, the GOP is barely on track to meet its basic midterm goal: to regain control of the House of Representatives.

For House Republicans, the sweetness of returning to the majority after four years may outweigh the sourness of a worse-than-expected performance. But that may not be enough to make Rep. Kevin McCarthy to make the speakership a reality.

The exact composition of a GOP majority could take weeks to determine, but it’s clear that whatever margin the Republicans have, it won’t be a comfortable one.

If Republicans have a slim majority, the California Republican may need his entire conference to back him up as a speaker — a task complicated by the fact that a few members have already suggested they’re not interested in a McCarthy speakership.

Even as Republicans secure and hold their majority in the coming days, McCarthy will face an issue that has plagued a generation of House GOP leaders: the House Freedom Caucus.

“Let’s say the margin is 10,” a source involved in the House Conservative leadership race strategy said Wednesday. “If McCarthy stumbles into negotiations with the Freedom Caucus to get them all the stuff they want, the outer core of HFC will probably start going up to him and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to step aside.’ McCarthy is probably starting to get that message from all quarters and stopping before the vote.”

Before long, members of Freedom Caucus were publicly brandishing their knives. On Wednesday night, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) told TBEN that McCarthy “has done nothing to earn my vote” and said a number of GOP members “will support a challenge”.

What the Freedom Caucus wants in return for supporting McCarthy as a speaker, this source said, would come as no great surprise. “The demands are already clear,” they said, citing an HFC procedural document the group released over the summer and one sent to incoming group members in October.

Among the demands are a number of proposals that seem obscure, but which could in fact reinvent Congress: reinstate the motion to leave (the mechanism to remove a speaker); passing a rule that would allow members to vote on an amendment if they get 10 percent of the GOP conference to co-support the proposal (a change that would dramatically weaken the speaker’s stranglehold on legislative products); and formalizing a “majority majority” rule (essentially blocking any account not supported by most of the GOP conference).

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The group also demands representation on the powerful Rules Committee, which determines which amendments get floor votes, as well as greater influence over how Republicans choose who runs and sits on committees.

Those changes would give the hardline considerable power, and they would be hard for any leader to swallow. McCarthy may oppose some of the proposals and challenge the Freedom Caucus to deny him the presidency. But two sources who spoke to The Daily Beast insisted the HFC would follow through on its threats — and that McCarthy’s hopes of calling on former President Donald Trump to rescue him would be fruitless.

Trump backed McCarthy to be a speaker on election day — just hours before the results came in — but his relationship with the GOP leader is somewhat strained despite McCarthy’s allegiance.

New members of the Freedom Caucus meet Thursday in Washington at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner. Meadows is also a former chairman of the Freedom Caucus and less friendly with McCarthy. While Meadows has his own complicated relationship with Trump, the meetings could hold the key to denying McCarthy the speakership — or helping him secure it.

For now, the immediate question is when the Republicans can hold leadership elections. Currently, the closed-door elections are scheduled for Tuesday, but there are so many races in limbo that a delay seems likely. Republicans may not even know if they will have the majority next Tuesday, and the votes in the California battlefield seats are expected to take days or even weeks to be fully counted.

Following the speaker’s question, there is a heated race for GOP whip – the potential No. 3 position in a House majority. National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN), Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Banks (R-IN), and current chief deputy whip Drew Ferguson (R-GA) are all running for the position, and they all have arguments for and against their candidacy.

Emmer seemed to be the favorite in an alternate reality where the NRCC ushered in a large GOP majority. But that didn’t happen.

Banks has strong ties to Trump and is a conservative with connections throughout the conference. But he is also considered a political chameleon who will do or say anything to gain power.

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And Ferguson, who at one point seemed to have the most tenuous path to the position, was now able to find a way to the spot. He is popular with many colleagues and is part of a voting bloc with Southeastern Republicans. However, his relationship with McCarthy is tense. While Ferguson is close to Minority Whip Steve Scalise, McCarthy reportedly kicked Ferguson from attending leadership meetings in 2021.

A source close to the leadership race told The Daily Beast that Ferguson is “loathed” by McCarthy. “He’s also not affiliated with conservatives, he’s not a Freedom Caucus man, he’s not from the right, he’s a Scalise man,” the source said.

Ferguson’s team did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

As The Daily Beast reported in October, the whip race has become a major flashpoint in Trumpworld.

However, all of these leadership races can go haywire if McCarthy can’t win the speakership. While the first step to the hammer is a relatively easy vote — a closed-door contest in which McCarthy only needs a majority of Republicans to back him — all GOP leadership positions could be in flux if McCarthy can’t win on the floor. of the House in January.

On the Democratic side, the party’s unexpectedly good night doesn’t necessarily have to rock the leadership machinations long in the making. But it could make them a lot more interesting.

Anticipating a loss of the House majority in 2022, Congressional insiders speculated widely that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would step down after a two-decade stint as Democratic leader, with her two longtime lieutenants-representatives. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) – expected to join her.

Within the caucus, the two clear contenders to succeed Pelosi are Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the fourth House Democrat, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Both quietly, and not so quietly, maneuvered to build their influence in preparation for Pelosi’s departure.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday, Pelosi said the brutal attack on her husband at their San Francisco home would affect whether she would remain as a leader, leading some to wonder if that meant she would now leave. was planning to leave or whether she was planning to stay now .

Concerns that the Democrats would be wiped out in the meantime never materialized. And Pelosi may maintain that it was partly her leadership that helped Democrats avoid major losses. She may suddenly have an argument for staying close.

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If that happened, it could throw succession plans into chaos. A Democratic minority leader just needs to win a majority of the caucus behind closed doors to secure the spot. Even if many Democrats are frustrated with Pelosi’s continued leadership presence, she may be able to win a vote to remain the best Democrat.

By narrow margins, Democrats may not even want to temporarily leave Congress and help Republicans with their own voting problems. In that scenario, Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn could all stay — in leadership or as regular members.

Conversely, Pelosi’s departure would also spark another battle, opening the top spot in the Democratic caucus for the first time since 2002 and giving younger generations of lawmakers a chance to pursue their pent-up dreams of power.

For now, Democrats choose to believe Pelosi plans to retire.

A Democratic lawmaker, who granted anonymity to speak candidly about caucus dynamics, said many read those Pelosi comments about the attack on her husband as a signal that she is ready to leave. “And who can blame her?” said the member.

If so, Jeffries is “well positioned” to step down, said the lawmaker, who predicted that Schiff – who is “smart and risk averse” – would likely resign after seriously considering moving to the top job. Democrats are expected to hold their leadership elections after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Since it could be weeks before the final House split is established, Democrats are more or less in a set pattern about the future leadership picture, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI). “Nobody said anything,” he said. “I think we’re all trying to figure that out and nobody knows the answer.”

Some insiders believe that next year’s most likely scenario — a thin GOP majority with McCarthy under constant siege — would be an ideal opportunity for a new Democratic leader to cut their teeth. “If [Pelosi] retiring, it’s the best possible scenario for us to break in a new team,” said a House aide. “The Republicans will constantly fall apart and make Hakeem or whoever look good.”

A GOP source had a similar thought, telling The Daily Beast that McCarthy’s problems may be less “becoming a speaker, but staying a speaker.”

“He will have to do a lot about it,” said the source.

—with coverage from Ursula Perano