McCarthy walks a fine line with the Freedom Caucus

And the Californian’s appeals to members are just a trivial gesture to build support, McCarthy’s allies say, dismissing the prospect of serious concessions to the Freedom Caucus or an alternative dark horse entering the presidential race.

“I don’t know if anyone could ride a [serious] campaign” against McCarthy, a senior Republican House official said, on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “I know there’s going to be a lot of resentment, obviously. But the Freedom Caucus guys know that. They see an opportunity. And I’m not sure they have a viable alternative.

In another positive sign for McCarthy, a member of the Freedom Caucus told POLITICO on Thursday the group decided to work with the GOP leader “as much as possible,” though they added “for now.” The member also said he was not going to engage with the press at this time “for unity purposes.” Lawmakers in the group believe they can get concessions from the presidential hopeful.

McCarthy has been here before. The Freedom Caucus frustrated his bid to run for president in 2015, forcing him to step down when it was clear he would not have enough support. Faced with a likely narrow majority next year and hoping to win a full house vote in January, he will have to limit defections to a few of his members at most.

Giving too much to the Freedom Caucus risks basically crippling its voice. McCarthy is therefore proceeding differently this time around, in part by fielding key allies – the former chief chairman among them.

Trump, who wields significant influence in the Freedom Caucus, officially endorsed McCarthy on Monday. And minority whip Steve Scalise has announced his intention to take the No. 2 spot, eliminating any possible speculation that he could mount his own bid.

Not to mention Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who once challenged McCarthy for first place in the conference, but has now pulled out of the running and has publicly reiterated that he expects McCarthy to be the speaker.

“The guy who gets you to the Super Bowl, even if it’s an overtime game, runs the game in my opinion. So… I didn’t hear anyone come forward. And don’t necessarily anticipate that,” Jordan told Fox News Radio on Wednesday when asked about a challenge from McCarthy.

There is vague talk of a potential long-term challenge to McCarthy from a member of the Freedom Caucus, a move that would be designed to further squeeze the California Republican. But five members of the Freedom Caucus said in interviews Wednesday that they were unaware of any formal plans or of any members considering the step, although the option remains on the table as a possible tool to help them. to push.

On the contrary, two said there was a chance they would nominate a token name as speaker, like Ronald Reagan, and threaten to back that protest option if they don’t feel McCarthy has done enough. concessions on the rules front.

In a phone call with a group of allies on Wednesday morning, the GOP leader asked for help encouraging his colleagues to back his presidential bid amid the expected rules push, multiple Republican sources confirmed. . CNN reported the call first with the members.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said he was calling McCarthy, noting he was not asked but was doing it of his own volition.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (RN.C.), the party’s top member on the House Financial Services Committee, said he was another in the McCarthy camp happy to call his colleagues.

“He’s won seats for us two cycles in a row and he’s the person we need to run us by a narrow majority,” McHenry said in an interview after leaving the Republican leader’s office.

In addition to the conservatives’ desire to build capacity to topple GOP speakers, they also want more Freedom Caucus representation on the Steering Committee, an internal conference panel that hands out plum committee assignments. Some of the party’s bombers, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), are also considering seats on investigative committees that will shed light on planned investigations into the Biden administration.

But the Freedom Caucus also has divisions within its ranks that have become more visible in recent months, schisms that can make it harder for members to unite against GOP leadership as they articulate their demands. While nearly everyone is on the same page about their rules, some members of the pro-Trump group may be more willing to negotiate than others.

Meanwhile, McCarthy leaning too far to the conference’s right could spark angst among his already small but integral core of centrists that he’ll need the votes to pass public spending bills or raise the ceiling on the debt.

“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 a centrist GOP congressman, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity. future of the conference. . “I don’t want us to be a kissing party, or a Liz Cheney party either.”

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