Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has thrown his support for a successor behind California GOP Representative and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy; McCarthy is seen at left with Ryan at right on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on September 6
- Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has thrown his support for a successor behind California GOP Representative Kevin McCarthy
- McCarthy is now second from the top, behind Ryan as House Majority Leader
- President Donald Trump seemed to show favor for McCarthy at a White House dinner on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with their interaction
- With all House seats up for re-election in November, McCarthy could instead vie for GOP leadership as the House Minority Leader if Democrats win back control
- In either scenario, McCarthy’s greatest competition is believed to be Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who has said he will not run against his friend
By Stephanie Haney
Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has thrown his support for a successor behind California GOP Representative and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
‘I think we all think that Kevin is the right person,’ Ryan told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Friday, using the word ‘we’ to refer to Republic leadership in the House, in an already released clip from a longer interview that will air on Sunday’s episode of Meet the Press.
Ryan made his preference for a successor known just two days after he announced on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in November, so he can get to know his children as more than a ‘weekend Dad.’
However, with every seat in the House up for re-election at the end of the year, it’s also possible McCarthy could be vying, instead, for the title of House Minority Leader, if Democrats regain control over the lower house in the mid-terms.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday that President Donald Trump ‘has a great relationship’ with McCarthy but declined to say whom he wants as speaker.
If it is a Republican who turns out to be Ryan’s successor, that person will need to secure 218 GOP votes to claim the top position in the House.
That’s because the entire chamber votes on the speaker and all Democrats would be sure to oppose any Republican candidate.
But even with backing from Ryan, and potentially Trump, McCarthy’s grasp on the highest billed GOP House position in either a majority or minority scenario is uncertain.
McCarthy and Ryan conduct a news conference in the Capitol after a meeting of the House Republican Conference on March 6
In 2015, McCarthy’s effort to succeed Republican Speaker John Boehner from Ohio flopped in just a few days as he failed to secure enough votes, especially from conservatives.
To make things more complicated, Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio, who is the leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said he’s ‘open to running’ and has been encouraged by colleagues to do so.
Although Jordan’s candidacy would seem all but certain to fall short, it could potentially serve as a way for that group’s roughly 30 members to win leverage by trading their support for promises of leadership and committee posts.
The current third-ranking House Republican leader, Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is seen as McCarthy’s true top rival for the post.
While Scalise, who is viewed as more conservative than McCarthy, has said he wouldn’t run against his longtime friend, he’s left the door open for seeking the post should McCarthy’s effort fall short.
With such a major election right around the corner, many Republicans say it’s crucial that the party unify behind an effort to pass additional bills on taxes and other subjects and focus on re-election campaigns, not a divisive internal contest over the next leader.
Aides to McCarthy and Scalise declined to immediately provide comment.
Sources with knowledge of a conversation that occurred at the White House on Wednesday between Trump and McCarthy said the president expressed support for Ryan’s deputy leader, after asking McCarthy if he really wanted the job.
McCarthy said he did, according to the sources, adding that while Trump tried not to explicitly endorse McCarthy, it was clear the president would be ‘very happy’ for McCarthy to ascend to the post.
But even in a contest of Republican lawmakers, a Trump endorsement is a double-edged sword. The president is unpopular in many suburban and other swing districts, and many Republicans don’t want their leader to be viewed as beholden to the whims of the unpredictable president.
Others bristle at the idea of presidential meddling in their contest.
‘This is a matter to be decided by the legislative branch of government, not the executive branch,’ Republican Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey said of Trump supporting a candidate.
Still, the Trump factor will be hard to avoid. With Ryan’s departure slated for January, Republicans will lose another establishment force who, at times, pushed back at Trump.
It’s far from clear McCarthy intends to play the same role.
He was one of Trump’s earliest supporters and has never flinched as Trump endured criticism for his comments on women, minorities and others.
Since Trump’s election, the two have advertised their close relationship and a buddy-movie-style bond, highlighted by Trump sometimes calling out ‘my Kevin’ at events.
Aides say the two men speak frequently, enjoying a partnership that’s benefited both men.
In McCarthy, Trump has a Capitol Hill confidant who looks the part of the silver-haired politician with his sharp suits and ready smile. On the flip side, McCarthy is able to boost his conservative credentials every time he has a chance to flaunt his seemingly chummy relationship with Trump.
Neither man is tethered to strict GOP dogma, which creates space for the deal-making both favor. Both like to rely on gut political instincts than expertise in guiding decisions.
In one speed bump in their relationship, The Washington Post reported that a leaked 2016 audiotape included a suggestion by McCarthy that Trump was being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump repeatedly praised during the presidential campaign.
McCarthy aides said the remark, made to other GOP leaders, was a bad joke.