A far-right challenge is brewing to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s run for speaker, prompting him on Wednesday to quickly start lining up support in the conference.
The leadership race kicked off as Republicans closed in on a takeover of the House. However, some races remained too close to call, and the expected “red wave” failed to materialize.
The House GOP’s smaller-than-expected majority increased leverage for the chamber’s arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus to demand concessions from Mr. McCarthy in exchange for support for his speakership bid.
Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, was already working the phones Wednesday to secure support within the group and to blunt a potential challenge, a GOP aide familiar with the matter told The Washington Times.
In a letter to colleagues announcing his speakership bid, Mr. McCarthy vowed to bring changes that Republicans have long wanted, such as ending pandemic-era rules, more time to review legislation and “putting the right people in the right spots,” which signals more input from members on committee assignments.
“I will be a listener every bit as much as a Speaker, striving to build consensus from the bottom-up rather than commanding the agenda from the top-down,” he wrote. “Everyone has something valuable to bring to the table and my door will always be open to your ideas and input on how we best achieve our shared goals.”
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Mr. McCarthy’s biggest obstacle to securing the speakership is the Freedom Caucus, and its power vastly increases with a narrow majority.
There also are several viable alternatives to Mr. McCarthy, though they are untested, said the GOP aide, who is familiar with the thinking in the Freedom Caucus.
In addition to the plans laid out by Mr. McCarthy, the conservatives want to make it easier to oust the speaker and a guarantee that their members will be placed in more powerful positions, such as at least one committee chairman.
“There are people who will never vote for Kevin McCarthy,” the source said, name-checking those like Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. “I’m sure there’s about 10, so that’s enough to entertain McCarthy. I know McCarthy is calling around. The real question is, who else would it be?”
The most obvious alternatives within the current leadership ranks have already bowed to Mr. McCarthy.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, had said he would not challenge Mr. McCarthy and endorsed him for speaker. He made good on that pledge Wednesday, announcing his bid to become House majority leader, which is the No. 2 majority position.
Former President Donald Trump has also endorsed Mr. McCarthy.
Several Freedom Caucus members warned that their votes will be hard to secure.
“I don’t understand why this is just a foregone conclusion,” former Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs of Arizona told the podcast “Absolute Truth with Emerald Robinson.” “We need to have a real discussion and see how people respond to the ultimate results of this election, get a feel for his agenda and what he’s going to accomplish, because if we’re going to go in for eight months of performance art instead of really getting things done, then we will fail in preparing for a 2024 election.”
Other caucus members, like Rep. Greg Steube of Florida, expressed doubt there would be any serious challengers.
“I hadn’t even heard of anybody running against him,” he said in a clip from the same podcast. “I don’t see how McCarthy doesn’t win the speaker’s race next week.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Mr. Biggs’s role in the Freedom Caucus. He is the former chairman.