The three GOP rivals will make final pitches ahead of noon elections
(WASHINGTON) — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy appealed to sharply divided fellow Republicans Thursday to back him for speaker at a time of turmoil and change. But the day’s secret-ballot elections were shaping up as merely an early skirmish in the chaotic battle to lead the House.
As the day began, McCarthy and his two rivals to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner addressed a closed-door meeting of the GOP rank and file in the basement of the Capitol, making final pitches ahead of elections to begin at noon.
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who’s supporting McCarthy, said the 50-year-old Californian pitched himself as “a proven leader, a generational change in the speakership.”
“Plus he listens very carefully,” Brady said, “and as a result our conference will continue to have more power over the agenda, which is what we all want.”
But McCarthy has failed to win over a small but crucial bloc in the House GOP: the hardline Freedom Caucus. This group of 30-plus uncompromising conservatives drove Boehner to resign by threatening a floor vote on his speakership. On the eve of Thursday’s vote they announced they would oppose Boehner’s No.2, McCarthy, and back one of his rivals instead, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, a former speaker of the Florida House.
The decision was a blow to McCarthy. Although there was little expectation that the group would back the Californian, there was much speculation that the sometimes disorganized hard-liners would be unable to rally around any of his opponents, either.
“Power doesn’t like to give up its power, and so that’s why many of us have gotten behind Mr. Webster,” Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a Freedom Caucus member, said outside Thursday’s meeting. “We feel that conservatives have been greatly marginalized by the current leadership.”
Despite the opposition, McCarthy clearly has overwhelming support in the House GOP and was all but certain to emerge the winner Thursday over Webster and a third rival, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That would make McCarthy the House GOP nominee for speaker.
But his true test will come Oct. 29, when the full House will vote for speaker in open session. With Democrats certain to back Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy will be able to lose only 29 votes and still gain the 218-vote majority he will need to prevail.