- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Former President Donald Trump didn’t move the needle at all Wednesday by campaigning for House Republicans to elect Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy as speaker, renewing questions about Mr. Trump’s sway over the party.

Mr. Trump warned an anti-McCarthy faction of 20 lawmakers in a statement that they were risking an “embarrassing defeat” and were playing a “dangerous game” by repeatedly voting against Mr. McCarthy. Some lawmakers said Mr. Trump called them individually to press them to vote for Mr. McCarthy.

Yet not a single one of the lawmakers — all staunch Trump allies — heeded his call.

Hours after Mr. Trump issued a statement of support for Mr. McCarthy, the fourth balloting for speaker ended with Mr. McCarthy falling short again. He received 201 votes, one less than he garnered Tuesday before Mr. Trump reminded lawmakers of his endorsement.

Mr. McCarthy lost two more rounds of voting Wednesday before the House adjourned until later in the evening.

The high-profile failure of Mr. Trump’s endorsement raised fresh doubts about the former president’s once-iron grip on the Republican Party. Less than two months earlier, some Republicans blamed him for the party’s weaker-than-expected performance in the midterm elections. Mr. Trump has launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination next year.

“Trump delivers Kevin McCarthy⁩ exactly ZERO votes for Speaker. Can the GOP now stop acting like Trump matters?” Republican strategist Rick Tyler posted on Twitter.

Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, chided Mr. Trump on the House floor as she decried “tactics to get people to turn against” the anti-McCarthy contingent. She spoke of “having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off.”

“I think it actually needs to be reversed,” Ms. Boebert said. “The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw.”

The speakership showdown within the House Republican Conference not only stopped a speaker from taking the gavel but also prevented the launch of the 118th Congress, including the swearing-in of its members.

Rep.-elect Ralph Norman of South Carolina was among the lawmakers whose mind wasn’t changed by Mr. Trump.

“He’s wrong on that. I disagree with him,” Mr. Norman told WRHI-AM in South Carolina. “This isn’t his fight, in all due respect. This is a fight in Congress. That’s for us to decide. We have to live with who we pick.”

Rep.-elect Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican who supports Mr. McCarthy, expressed anger that the anti-McCarthy faction was ignoring Mr. Trump’s wishes.

“I’m a little upset,” Mr. Gonzales said on Fox News. “Here we have President Trump come out with a very powerful endorsement of Kevin McCarthy, and you have 20 members of our caucus essentially thumb their noses at the former president, saying we are above — it’s not above the House — we are above the party and the direction of this country.”

Democrats were gleeful at the spectacle of division between Republican lawmakers and their party’s first and only announced candidate for president in 2024.

“Lauren Boebert calling out Donald Trump on the House floor was not on my 2023 bingo card,” tweeted Rep.-elect Ritchie Torres, New York Democrat.

Some Trump allies urged their House Republican colleagues to listen to his advice.

Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia retweeted Mr. Trump’s endorsement of Mr. McCarthy as she exhorted Republicans, “Let’s Go! We have work to do!!”

Mr. McCarthy needs 218 votes, or a majority of lawmakers voting, to win the speakership. Before Wednesday’s voting began, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone predicted that Mr. McCarthy would fail “even with the endorsement of President Donald Trump.”

All the lawmakers who voted against Mr. McCarthy have long been closely allied with Mr. Trump. Among the Trump allies who didn’t heed Mr. Trump’s call on Wednesday was Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz of Florida, who called the former president’s effort “sad.”

“Supporting McCarthy is the worst Human Resources decision President Trump has ever made,” Mr. Gaetz tweeted.

The former president told Republican lawmakers that if they wanted to attack another member of their party, they should target Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was appearing in his home state with President Biden on Wednesday to trumpet last year’s bipartisan infrastructure deal.

“If Republicans are going to fight, we ought to be fighting Mitch McConnell” and his “China-loving” wife, Trump administration Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the former president posted on his Truth Social platform.

“The harm they have done to the Republican Party is incalculable,” Mr. Trump said of the couple.

Some observers said Mr. Trump, who as president referred to Mr. McCarthy approvingly as “my Kevin,” seemed lukewarm in his endorsement this week. On Tuesday, after Mr. McCarthy failed three times to gain enough votes, an NBC News reporter asked Mr. Trump for his reaction.

“We’ll see what happens,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. McCarthy’s camp doubted that the comment helped him, and the lawmaker spoke by phone with Mr. Trump that night. Mr. McCarthy subsequently told reporters that the former president “reiterated his support” for him.

Mr. McCarthy also said Mr. Trump was concerned that the multiple failed votes to choose a speaker “doesn’t look good for Republicans.”
It was one of the few agreements between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump.

“It’s not a good look, it’s not a good thing,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “It’s embarrassing for the country. It’s the United States of America, and I hope they get their act together.”

Mr. McCarthy’s relationship with Mr. Trump has endured some major twists. An important partner for Mr. Trump during his presidency, Mr. McCarthy changed his tone during the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He said Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the mob’s attack.

Mr. McCarthy soon backtracked on those comments and visited Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to patch up any differences. Critics said Mr. McCarthy did so with an eye on winning the speakership.

Still, even after Mr. McCarthy confirmed Mr. Trump’s support for him this week, the former president’s statements appeared to lack enthusiasm.

Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB — JUST WATCH!” Mr. Trump wrote.

The former president suggested to Fox Digital that House Republicans could always toss out Mr. McCarthy after electing him speaker, as if the lawmaker had an expiration date. He said the Republican Party was in danger of squandering its House victory in the midterms.

“Let’s get this thing over with,” Mr. Trump said. “I think it is a dangerous game, and, frankly, if they are not happy with him, they can do something about it at a later date.”

• Mica Soellner and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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