Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is in trouble before it begins

After all the bad news for Republicans on Election Day, the GOP is just about on track to achieve its fundamental goal for the midterms: regaining control of the House of Representatives.

For House Republicans, the sweetness of returning to the majority after four years may outweigh the sour feelings of a worse-than-expected performance. But that may not be enough to materialize Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s rise to spokesmanship.

It could be weeks before the exact makeup of a GOP majority is determined, but it’s clear the Republicans’ margin won’t be comfortable.

If Republicans have a narrow majority, the California Republican could need his entire conference to support him as a speaker — a task made difficult by the fact that some members have already indicated they have no interest in a McCarthy speakership.

Even as Republicans secure and increase their majority in the coming days, McCarthy will face an issue that has plagued a generation of House GOP leaders: the House Freedom Caucus.

“Let’s just say the margin is 10,” a source involved in the leadership’s strategy for the House Conservative Party said on Wednesday. “When McCarthy stumbles into negotiations with the Freedom Caucus to give them all the stuff they want, the outer core of HFC probably starts to go to him and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to step aside. ‘ McCarthy is probably starting to get that message from all corners and is resigning before the vote.”

It wasn’t long before members of the Freedom Caucus publicly drew their knives. On Wednesday night, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) said Axius that McCarthy “did nothing to earn my vote” and said a number of GOP members “will support a challenge.”

What the Freedom Caucus wants in exchange for supporting McCarthy as a speaker, this source said, would not come as a huge surprise. “The demands are already formulated,” they said, citing an HFC procedures document the group issued over the summer and a document sent to new group members in October.

The demands include a number of proposals that may seem obscure but could actually reinvent Congress: reinstate the eviction request (the mechanism for removing a speaker); passing a rule that would allow members to vote on any change if they get 10 percent of the GOP conference to co-sponsor the proposal (a change that would dramatically weaken the speaker’s stranglehold on legislative products); and the formalization of a “majority-of-the-majority” rule (essentially blocking any bill not endorsed by most GOP conferences).

The group also calls for representation on the powerful Rules Committee, which determines which changes get the floor, as well as greater influence over how Republicans decide who runs for and sits on committees.

These changes would give the hardline faction considerable power, and they would be difficult for any leader to swallow. McCarthy could oppose a number of proposals and challenge the Freedom Caucus to deny him the speakership. But two sources speaking to The Daily Beast insisted the HFC would carry out its threats – and that McCarthy’s hopes of appealing to former President Donald Trump to save him would be fruitless.

Trump endorsed McCarthy for becoming spokesman on Election Day — just hours before the results came out — but his relationship with the GOP leader is somewhat strained, despite McCarthy’s allegiance.

New Freedom Caucus members meet Thursday in Washington at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner. Meadows is also a former chairman of the Freedom Caucus and is not friendly with McCarthy. While Meadows has his own complicated relationship with Trump, the meetings could be the keys to denying McCarthy the speakership — or helping him secure it.

For now, the immediate question is when Republicans could hold elections for leadership. Currently, the behind-closed-doors election is scheduled for Tuesday, but there are so many races in the balance that a delay seems plausible. Republicans may not even know if they have a majority until next Tuesday, as it is expected to take days or even weeks to fully count the votes in California’s battlefield seats.

After the speaker question, there’s a heated race for the GOP stick — the No. 3 wannabe position in a majority of the House of Representatives. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks (R-IN) and current Chief Deputy Whip Drew Ferguson (R-GA) are all running for the position, and all have Arguments for and against her candidacy.

Emmer appeared to be the favorite in an alternate reality where the NRCC ushered in a large GOP majority. But that didn’t happen.

Banks has strong ties to Trump and is a conservative with ties throughout the conference. But he’s also seen as a political chameleon who will do or say anything to gain power.

And Ferguson, who at one point seemed to have the most difficult path to the position, could now find a path to the spot. He is popular with many colleagues and belongs to a voting bloc with the Republicans from the Southeast. However, his relationship with McCarthy is strained. While Ferguson is close to Minority Whip Steve Scalise, McCarthy reportedly barred Ferguson from attending leadership meetings in 2021.

A source close to the lead race told The Daily Beast that Ferguson is “detested” by McCarthy. “He’s also unrelated to conservatives, he’s not a Freedom Caucus guy, he’s not right-wing, he’s a Scalise guy,” said this source.

Ferguson’s team did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

As The Daily Beast reported in October, the whip race has become a major flashpoint in Trumpworld.

However, all of these downward elections for leadership could go haywire if McCarthy fails to win the speakership. While the first step to the gavel is a relatively simple vote — a behind-closed-doors contest that McCarthy would need only a majority of Republicans to support — all GOP leadership positions could be in flux if McCarthy can’t win in the House in January.

On the Democrat side, the party’s unexpected good night need not necessarily upend leadership machinations that have been in the works for a long time. But it could make them a lot more interesting.

In anticipation of losing the House majority in 2022, congressional insiders widely speculated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would step down after two decades as leader of the Democrats with her two longtime lieutenants — Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) – Expected to join her.

Within the faction, the two clear contenders to succeed Pelosi are Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the fourth-ranking House Democrat, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Both have maneuvered quietly, and not so quietly, to build their clout in preparation for Pelosi’s departure.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday, Pelosi said the brutal attack on her husband at her San Francisco home would affect whether she would remain as leader, and some questioned if that meant she was planning to do so now , to go, or that she now intended to stay.

Concerns that the Democrats would be wiped out in the midterms have never materialized. And Pelosi can perhaps claim that it was in part their leadership that helped Democrats stave off major losses. She might suddenly have an argument to stick around.

If that happens, it could throw succession arrangements into chaos. A minority Democratic leader need only win the majority of the caucus behind closed doors to secure the seat. While many Democrats are frustrated by Pelosi’s continued presence in the leadership, she may still win a vote to remain the top Democrat.

With narrow margins, Democrats may not even want to leave Congress temporarily and help Republicans with their own voting problems. In this scenario, Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn could all stay close – either in the lead or as ordinary members.

Conversely, Pelosi’s departure would also spark another fight that would capture the top spot in the Democratic faction for the first time since 2002 and give younger generations of lawmakers a chance to pursue their pent-up dreams of power.

For now, Democrats are choosing to believe Pelosi plans to retire.

A Democratic lawmaker who was granted anonymity to speak openly about the caucus dynamic said many read those Pelosi comments about attacking her husband as a signal that she was ready to go. “And who could blame her?” said the member.

If that’s the case, Jeffries is “well-positioned” to leave the field, said the lawmaker, who predicted Schiff — “smart and risk-averse” — would likely step down after giving serious thought to running for the top job . The Democrats are expected to hold their leadership election after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Given that it could be weeks before the final House breakdown is set, Democrats are more or less on hold on future leadership picture, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said. “Nobody said anything,” he said. “I think we’re all trying to figure that out and no one knows the answer to that.”

Some insiders believe the most likely scenario unfolding over the next year — a thin GOP majority with McCarthy under constant siege — would be an ideal opportunity for a new Democratic leader to bite his teeth. “If [Pelosi] retiring, this is the best possible scenario for us to hire a new team,” said an employee of the house. “Republicans are going to keep falling apart and making Hakeem or whoever look good.”

A GOP source had a similar thought, telling The Daily Beast that McCarthy’s problems may be less “becoming a speaker than staying a speaker.”

“He’s going to have to give a lot,” this source said.

—with a report by Ursula Perano Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is in trouble before it begins

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