McCarthy keeps right flank tight as he closes in on Speakership

·5 min read

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is giving the confrontational right flank of the GOP conference a seat at the table as he aims to shore up their support for Speaker if Republicans take the chamber next year.

McCarthy is eyeing having to manage a conference next year that is expected to tilt further to the right with a higher proportion of allies loyal to former President Trump.

And he’s starting now by including controversial figures and members of the House Freedom Caucus in high-profile events in an effort to seemingly win them over — unlike some of his GOP predecessors.

Firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) will be at a rollout event outside Pittsburgh on Friday for McCarthy’s Commitment to America policy platform, a list of policy priorities inspired by the 1994 Contract with America.

“I’m really happy with it,” Greene said of the plan. “The reason why I’m involved in — going to be actively involved is to make sure that we can push to get the right things in there when it comes time to put the bills to the floor.”

The rollout of the plan marks not just a formal statement of policy priorities aimed at wooing voters, but the culmination of McCarthy’s work to unify an ideologically and stylistically diverse conference around his leadership.

More than a year ago, McCarthy formed several task forces intended to craft policies that members could run on during the midterms. The vast majority of such Republican members were on the panels, including Greene and House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (Pa.), among others.

That has helped McCarthy gain buy-in from the right for his vision of a GOP majority.

McCarthy told reporters that the conference was “very much” unified around the Commitment to America plan, and that he “didn’t hear one negative word” about it.

“You know the conference, right? The different philosophical makeup. You could go from John Katko” — a more moderate New York Republican who is retiring — “to Marjorie Greene” he said, reflecting on the party’s political spectrum.

But some members have stopped short of giving full-throated support for the plan or his Speakership bid, raising questions about whether he would have enough votes should the chamber remain closely split in the new Congress.

“I think it’s a pretty good start. We’ve got a plan. I think we’ve got to put some — a little more meat on the bones. But it gives us a place to land, and all be kind of on the same page as we go after the last month here,” Perry said.

Asked whether she would support McCarthy for Speaker, Greene told reporters that she was not thinking about the leadership election yet.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) expressed approval of the plan for uniting the conference around a midterm message, but hinted at keeping up pressure on House GOP leadership.

“As someone who’s a conservative in the Freedom Caucus, part of my job is also accountability for the Republicans to do what we said we would do,” Roy said. “So, as we unite around a message to take our country back, I’ll be making sure that there’s some specificity and what that means should we win the majority.”

The plan also does not address some of the biggest demands from the right wing, like the potential of impeaching President Biden.

​​”I think the Republican controlled majority if they want to be successful, especially going at 2024, they’ll definitely make that a priority,” said Greene, who has introduced multiple impeachment resolutions against Biden.

McCarthy has watched up close the right-wing turmoil that previously plagued GOP House leadership.

“I’ve learned from the other mistakes,” McCarthy, in a March interview with Punchbowl News, said of former GOP Speakers John Boehner (Ohio) and Paul Ryan (Wis.).

Boehner, for his part, was punished by those in the right flank who publicly challenged him, such as former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a founding member of the Freedom Caucus which was formed around that time. Meadows was removed from a subcommittee chairmanship after clashing with the Speaker on a procedural vote.

More procedural moves from Meadows helped propel Boehner to a surprise retirement in 2015, stunning Washington one year after former Virginia Republican Rep. Eric Cantor became the first sitting House majority leader to lose his congressional seat to a political newcomer, and eventual Freedom Caucus member, Dave Brat.

Ryan spent much of 2016 doing a delicate dance around Trump’s candidacy — despite at times getting hammered by the Republican presidential nominee over the course of the election and during his early tenure in the White House before Ryan himself retired.

The Wisconsin Republican often had to tread between voicing support of his party’s president while disavowing some of Trump’s more inflammatory remarks on immigration and minority groups.

That type of intraparty turmoil seems to have evolved under McCarthy, unlike other previous leaders of the GOP conference.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another founder of the House Freedom Caucus, challenged McCarthy to lead House Republicans four years ago. But instead of being banished by leadership, he has been elevated.

Jordan is now ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee and eyeing leading numerous probes as chair of the panel in a majority. He has repeatedly said he is supporting McCarthy for Speaker.

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker who was the architect of the 1994 Contract with America that preceded a massive midterm win for the party, had high praise for McCarthy’s handling of the diverse caucus as he walked out of a House GOP meeting unveiling the plan to members.

“He’s a much better manager than I was,” Gingrich said. “I was amazed at members who normally find some reason not to be together getting up and saying, ‘We’re on the same team.’”

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