Speaker Gowdy? House Freedom Caucus Could Derail McCarthy’s Bid To Replace Boehner

Rep. Trey Gowdy (Photo by: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy faces significant opposition in his quest to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

Reports say the House Freedom Caucus holds the cards for McCarthy or any other candidate to get the 218 votes needed to win the Speaker election.

McCarthy doesn’t sell with members of the “hell no caucus,” and though grabbing more positive reviews than the California Congressman, Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster aren’t exactly electrifying the group.

If McCarthy can’t get the votes, and a stalemate develops with Chaffetz and Webster also coming up short, the conference could be forced to look elsewhere, possibly rallying around a reluctant Speaker candidate like South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, or even Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.

Gowdy has said he has no interest in running, but a consensus candidate like him could be drafted into the race to avoid continuing a messy battle on the House floor.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

if there is one organized group that could claim responsibility for the environment that led the Ohio Republican to call it quits, it is the House Freedom Caucus, a collection of 40 or so staunch conservatives who are held together by a simple belief: The party needs to fight harder for its causes.

Now, as Republicans begin the process of choosing a successor to Mr. Boehner, the group’s members are bringing the same game of disrupting the establishment to the leadership elections in an effort that could make it difficult for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California to ascend to the speaker’s job as easily as had been expected.

While the group represents only a slice of the 247 members of the Republican conference, it has managed to find ways to wield power and amplify its message by using social media and talk radio and working with outside groups such as the well-funded Heritage Foundation and the grass-roots group FreedomWorks. The House speaker may run the chamber, but conservatives have a strong outside game.

Members of the Freedom Caucus haven’t offered their own candidate for speaker, and it isn’t clear that they will back one of the current candidates, who along with Mr. McCarthy include Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) and Daniel Webster (R., Fla.)

But the caucus members do have enough votes to prevent Republicans from coalescing around a new speaker, threatening to disrupt the succession process. The House GOP is expected to meet Thursday to choose its nominee to succeed Mr. Boehner, probably Mr. McCarthy. But the next step in the process may not unfold as smoothly as usual, in which the majority party rallies behind its choice in a House floor vote for speaker.

Democrats are expected to back their own choice, probably Minority Leader Nancy Pelosiof California, meaning a Republican would need 218 GOP votes to win. Assuming the Freedom Caucus sticks together and opposes Mr. McCarthy, it could force a deadlock. If Mr. McCarthy didn’t win the majority of members voting for a speaker, the voting would be repeated. That would be a painful rebuke to Mr. McCarthy, though he has expressed confidence in his ability to win.”

The article continues:

“The Freedom Caucus, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) and formed by lawmakers as a more assertive alternative to the larger Republican Study Committee, has flexed its muscle all year. In January, the group was able to hold up Republican leadership plans for border-security legislation members saw as weak, and last month its members joined a fierce battle to defund Planned Parenthood, showing they are a force to contend with in coming leadership elections.

As the speaker candidates lobby their colleagues, members of the Freedom Caucus say they want to hear about the candidates’ stances on core conservative issues, like controlling the country’s debt and setting conditions on government spending, even if it risks a presidential veto that could trigger a shutdown.

But Mr. McCarthy’s ability to win over members of the group will depend partly on his ability to show that as speaker he would address one of their primary complaints. Freedom Caucus members see Republican leaders as too focused on traditional politics—in which inside players steer legislation through a shrewd use of the rules—and not enough on allowing voter discontent to find an outlet through votes in the House.

“I haven’t had a chance to represent the folks back home,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R., S.C.), one of the founding members of the House Freedom Caucus. “I don’t get to represent their wishes and their feelings, and regular order would allow us to do that. What they know is we’re not fighting.”

The WSJ says that the group is unlikely to back McCarthy.

“For the Freedom Caucus to take a formal position in the speaker race and endorse a particular candidate, 80% of its members would have agree. So far, it appears unlikely that Mr. McCarthy could reach that level of support. Some members say they are getting calls from constituents urging a vote against Mr. McCarthy, and others are expressing more favorable views about Mr. Webster.

“If 80 % of HFC support McCarthy, then the group probably should be disbanded,” Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.) tweeted this week. “I’m not worried about that happening.”