Inside the Freedom Caucus’ 2-step scheme to sideline McCarthy’s speaker bid unless he agrees to their demands

Inside the Freedom Caucus’ 2-step scheme to sideline McCarthy’s speaker bid unless he agrees to their demands
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California speaking at the 2016 Republican National ConventionRep. Kevin McCarthy of California speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Wikimedia Commons
News & Politics

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is preparing a bid for House speaker but conservatives on the House Freedom Caucus are plotting to block him from the position if he doesn't give into their legislative demands.

After the "red wave" failed to materialize in this year's midterm elections, Republicans have started to grapple with the idea that they will have a much smaller majority in the House next year than they anticipated. McCarthy's nomination is relatively straightforward, as he only needs a majority of House Republicans to support him, but many members of the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus are preparing a two-step plan to keep him from the speakership, according to reporting from Politico.

Conservatives are pushing to postpone Tuesday's scheduled leadership elections until the GOP is confirmed to control the House. If McCarthy doesn't comply, their plan is to nominate Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., as an internal candidate for speaker to prove that McCarthy does not have the 218 GOP votes needed for the full-chamber vote on Jan. 3 2023, an anonymous Republican source with knowledge of the plan told Politico.

If they are able to postpone the Tuesday election, conservatives would discuss an alternative candidate to put forward in consensus, said the anonymous Republican, who also added that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is the most likely choice for the Freedom Caucus. Biggs is acting as a symbolic alternative for step one, according to CNN.

"Kevin McCarthy has done nothing in two years to earn my vote," said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.

Russ Vought — a former budget director for the Trump White House — made the end goal of their plans clear.

"This is about building to January," he told far-right host Steve Bannon in a Friday interview.

"And we have an opportunity to have a paradigm-shattering victory [on] the speakership, to either be able to get Jim Jordan in as speaker — I don't care if he's not running right now — or to have a coalitional-style government where every decision goes through HFC," Vought added.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus, also publicly backed Jordan as the best speaker candidate, despite Jordan's frequent statements of support for McCarthy. Speaking on Gaetz's podcast, Vought touted the need for a "wartime speaker" in the House.

The Freedom Caucus is also publicly pressuring McCarthy to concede to their legislative demands if he wants the speakership. Some of their demands include restoring the ability for lawmakers to depose the speaker, adding more Caucus members to the influential Steering Committee and ensuring a floor vote on any amendment if 10% of the GOP conference cosponsors it, among others.

According to Politico, these demands act as a strategy to allow members to oppose McCarthy even if all their conditions are met — they would also drastically reduce McCarthy's control over the legislative process if elected.

However, allies of McCarthy are not convinced that the Freedom Caucus will be successful, and are frustrated by their preemptive plans. They are also warning that McCarthy will not part quietly with the speakership role like he did in 2015; his supporters are encouraging him to push back against the caucus.

"These palace intrigue stories are premature and they are still counting votes," said Jordan spokesperson Russell Dye when asked about the anti-McCarthy plan according to Politico. "What I can tell you for sure is that Mr. Jordan looks forward to chairing the Judiciary Committee next Congress."

Other representatives that are rumored to be the Freedom Caucus' pick for speaker are House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, GOP Vice Chair Mike Johnson, and Good; however, few see them as legitimate opponents especially since Scalise and Johnson have already officially backed McCarthy's campaign.

"There's a point of leverage in these leadership votes," said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa. "We want to have a conversation, devoid of the politics about who is leading, on how the House should operate, how legislation should pass."

"There's a fairly easy solution here," a source close to the Freedom Caucus told Fox News. "McCarthy can support popular reforms to decentralize the speaker's power and empower individual members, or he can roll the dice that someone else won't make that compromise and get the speaker's gavel."

House leadership aides also informed Fox News that McCarthy is expected to cut a deal with the Freedom Caucus to accept at least a few of their demands.

As it stands, the Republican majority is projected to be around 218 seats — the minimum for control of the House — to 230 seats if the GOP sweeps all remaining races, including some that Democrats are favored to win. However, these numbers still fall short of the 60 seats that McCarthy predicted from the failed red wave.

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