McCarthy walks a fine line with the Freedom Caucus

McCarthy walks a fine line with the Freedom Caucus

McCarthy walks a fine line with the Freedom Caucus

And the Californian’s calls to members are just a routine move to shore up support, McCarthy allies say, dismissing the prospect of any serious concessions to the Freedom Caucus or a dark-horse alternative entering the chairmanship race.

“I don’t know that anyone could edit [serious] campaign” against McCarthy, one senior House Republican said, was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “I know there’s going to be a lot of malice, obviously. But the Freedom Caucus guys know that. They see an opportunity. And I’m not sure they have a viable alternative.”

McCarthy has been here before. The Freedom Caucus thwarted his attempt to run for speaker in 2015, forcing him to withdraw when it was clear he would not have enough support. Facing a likely slim majority next year and hoping to win a vote in the full house in January, it will have to limit defections to at most a few of its own members.

Giving too much to Freedom Caucus lawmakers risks jeopardizing his oratory wholesale. So McCarthy is doing it differently this time, in part by lining up key allies—among them the former president.

Trump, who wields considerable influence in the Freedom Caucus, formally endorsed McCarthy on Monday. And Minority Whip Steve Scalise has announced his intention to run for second place, eliminating any possible speculation that he might want to submit his bid.

Not to mention Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who once challenged McCarthy for the conference’s top spot, but has now withdrawn from the race and publicly reiterated that he expects McCarthy to be speaker.

“The guy that takes you to the Super Bowl, even if it’s an overtime game, he can be the coach of the game in my opinion. So… I haven’t heard anyone come forward. And don’t necessarily predict that,” Jordan told Fox News Radio on Wednesday when asked about McCarthy’s challenge.

There is talk of a potential long-term challenge to McCarthy from a member of the Freedom Caucus, a move designed to further squeeze the California Republican. However, five members of the Freedom Caucus said in interviews Wednesday that they were unaware of any formal plans or any members considering that step, although the option remains on the table as a possible means of helping to promote them.

Instead, the two said there was a chance they could nominate a token name for speaker, like Ronald Reagan, and threatened to throw their support behind that protest option if they didn’t feel McCarthy had made enough concessions on the rules front.

In a phone call with a group of allies Wednesday morning, the GOP leader asked for help encouraging colleagues to support his bid for speaker amid an expected push for the rules, multiple Republican sources confirmed. CNN first to report the call with members.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said he was inviting McCarthy, noting that he wasn’t asked, but was doing so of his own free will.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (RN.C.), the top party member on the House Financial Services Committee, said he is another in McCarthy’s camp who likes to call his colleagues.

“He’s won seats for us two terms in a row and he’s the person we need to lead us through a narrow majority,” McHenry said in an interview after leaving the Republican leader’s office.

In addition to conservatives’ desire to strengthen the ability to oust the GOP speaker, they also want more Freedom Caucus representatives on the steering committee, the internal conference panel that assigns plum board assignments. Some of the party’s bomb throwers, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), are also seeking seats on investigative committees that will put the spotlight on planned investigations into the Biden administration.

But the Freedom Caucus also has divisions within its ranks that have become more visible in recent months, rifts that could make it harder for members to stand up to GOP leadership in a unified way as they make their demands. While almost everyone is on the same page about their rules, some in the pro-Trump group may be more willing to negotiate than others.

Meanwhile, McCarthy leaning too far to the right of the conference could anger his already shrinking but integral group of centrists whose votes he will need to pass a government spending bill or raise the debt ceiling.

“I don’t want us to be a Trump-o-phile party, I don’t want us to be a Trump-o-phobe party,” said one centrist GOP lawmaker, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity about the future of the conference. “I don’t want us to be an ass-kissing party, or a Liz Chaney party.”

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