“There’s many times where we have come to the leader, the minority leader, over the last two years and asked him to fight on various opportunities and various issues, and I have not seen the demonstrated fight that we’re looking for,” Good said. “So I expect there will be a challenge to him as speaker candidate.”
Indeed, loose talk of a potential long-shot challenge to McCarthy from a Freedom Caucus member is growing louder as the group flirts with a move designed to further squeeze the California Republican. And the vise is real: Facing a likely small majority next year and hoping to win a vote of the full chamber in January, McCarthy has to limit defections to a few of his members at most. But giving the Freedom Caucus too much risks handicapping his speakership wholesale.
McCarthy’s been here before: The conservative group frustrated his speakership bid in 2015, forcing him to withdraw when it was clear he wouldn’t have enough support.
The group’s chair, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), told reporters Thursday that he had called McCarthy and not heard back. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said he told McCarthy he would not commit to supporting the Californian for speaker and that the Freedom Caucus member hoped leadership elections slated for next week would “be delayed.”
And it’s not all coming from inside the Freedom Caucus this time: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump ally not in the group, joined Chip Roy (R-Texas) in agreement with a tweet from former Trump Cabinet member Russ Vought as he called for new leadership and said “the House Freedom Caucus was made for this moment.”
Five Freedom Caucus members said in Wednesday interviews that they knew of no formal plans to challenge McCarthy suggesting a real divide in the group as others pushed the idea of trying to work with him. Two of them said an alternative plan is that members threaten to throw their support behind a symbolic name like Ronald Reagan in order to get McCarthy to make concessions on their proposed rules changes — including strengthening the conference’s ability to force a vote on deposing the speaker.
McCarthy called Freedom Caucus members Wednesday to talk about their longstanding rules demands. In conversations with those lawmakers, McCarthy tried to find areas of common ground on some of their requests, according to two Republicans familiar with the matter. But one of those Republicans said McCarthy made clear in those conversations that he’s disinclined to empower House members to dislodge the speaker next year — arguing it would allow Democrats to wreak havoc in the chamber.
The Californian’s calls to members are simply a run-of-the-mill move to shore up support, McCarthy’s allies say, dismissing the prospect of any serious concessions to the Freedom Caucus or a dark-horse alternative entering the speakership race. And a Freedom Caucus critic dismissed complaints from lawmakers like Good who said McCarthy hadn’t done enough for them, pointing out Good had benefited from leadership-aligned campaign committees spending $3 million in his 2020 election.
“I don’t know that anybody could mount a [serious] campaign” against McCarthy, said one senior House Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “I know there’s going to be a lot of rancor, obviously. But Freedom Caucus guys know that. They see an opportunity. And I’m not sure they have a viable alternative.”
And in a further positive sign for McCarthy, one Freedom Caucus member told POLITICO Thursday morning the group has decided to work with the GOP leader “as much as possible,” though they added “for now.” The member also said they are not going to engage with press at the moment “for the purposes of unity.” Lawmakers in the group believe they can get some concessions from the speakership hopeful.
McCarthy has taken precautions against potential rebellions by lining up pivotal allies — the former president chief among them.
Trump, who holds significant sway in the Freedom Caucus, formally backed McCarthy on Monday. And Minority Whip Steve Scalise has announced his intention to take the No. 2 spot, eliminating any possible speculation that he might mount his own bid.
Not to mention Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who once challenged McCarthy for the conference’s top spot but has taken himself out of the running now and publicly reiterated that he expects McCarthy to be speaker.
“The guy who gets you to the Super Bowl, even if it’s a game in overtime, gets to coach the game in my judgment. So … I’ve not heard of anyone stepping forward. And don’t necessarily anticipate that,” Jordan told Fox News Radio on Wednesday, asked about a McCarthy challenge.
In a phone call with a group of allies Wednesday morning, the GOP leader asked for help in encouraging colleagues to support his speakership bid amid the anticipated rules push, multiple Republican sources confirmed. CNN first reported the call with members.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said he is making calls for McCarthy, noting that he was not asked but is doing so on his own volition.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the party’s top member on the House Financial Services Committee, said he’s another in the McCarthy camp happy to call his colleagues.
“He’s won seats for us two cycles in a row and he is the person we need to manage us through a narrow majority,” McHenry said in an interview after he left the Republican leader’s office.
In addition to conservatives’ desire to strengthen the ability to overthrow GOP speakers, they also want more Freedom Caucus representation on the steering committee, an internal conference panel that doles out plum committee assignments. Some of the party’s bomb-throwers, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), are also eyeing seats on investigative panels that will take the spotlight of planned investigations into the Biden administration.
But the Freedom Caucus also has divisions in its ranks that have grown more visible in recent months, schisms that may make it harder for members to stand united against GOP leadership as they make their demands. While almost all are on the same page about their rules push, some in the pro-Trump group may be more willing to negotiate than others.
Meanwhile, McCarthy bending too much to the conference’s right could spark angst among his already shrinking but integral group of centrists whose votes he’ll need to pass bills on government spending or raising 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 conference’s future. “I don’t want us to be a kiss-ass party, or a Liz Cheney party, either.”