McCarthy struggles to sway GOP detractors with extended conference rules debate

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to the media at the U.S. House Republican Member Retreat, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (Nick Wass/AP)

McCarthy struggles to sway GOP detractors with extended conference rules debate

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to provide an extended period of time to debate the House GOP conference rules and introduce amendments did little to convince his Republican critics to support him for speaker on the floor on Jan. 3.

McCarthy won the internal leadership vote in mid-November, yet 36 members of his conference opted not to support him for the position. The California Republican can lose just four votes on the floor to obtain the gavel unless defectors vote present or refrain from voting to bring down the threshold from 218.

Five conservative lawmakers — former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who challenged McCarthy in the internal election, as well as Reps. Ralph Norman (R-SC), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Matt Rosendale (MT), and Bob Good (R-VA) — have voiced plans to oppose McCarthy in the vote, with Good asserting he does not intend to vote “present.”


Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus have repeatedly called for substantial changes to the rules, arguing that power should be decentralized away from leadership, with members pushing for slowing down the legislative process and allowing for more amendments.

The group’s push for changes was met with mixed results within the conference. The caucus succeeded in passing changes to require the Rules Committee to consider amendments that have the support of 20% of the conference and language requiring five days’ notice before bringing suspension bills to the floor, while their efforts to ban earmarks were ultimately unsuccessful and an amendment restoring the process to vacate the chair ended up with softer language than initially proposed.

While the conference didn’t pass all of their demands, conservatives largely praised the extended process that allowed them to make their voices heard but argued it shouldn’t have taken the threat of derailing a leadership bid.

“The process that took place yesterday reminded me of a shotgun wedding,” Rosendale told the Washington Examiner.

“Those are rules — that doesn’t have anything to do with the vote for speaker. As of now, I see no path [for McCarthy],” a third conservative said.

Another GOP member sarcastically quipped, “I’m sure he has all the votes he needs now, just took him over the edge, he’s probably got 222,” when asked if holding the forum on rules helped McCarthy sway support in his direction.

Norman asserted during an appearance on “Real America’s Voice” that conservatives will soon rally around an alternative candidate, stating: “It will be apparent in the coming weeks who that person will be. I will tell you, it will be interesting.”

Outside conservative groups including Club for Growth have ramped up additional pressure for rules changes in the wake of the package passing out of conference.

“Instead of mimicking Nancy Pelosi’s regime, the new Speaker of the House should adopt … reforms in order to return democracy to the House of Representatives,” the group tweeted.

While GOP hard-liners are complicating McCarthy’s path to the speakership, some within the conference said they believe he will get there, with one Freedom Caucus member telling the Washington Examiner that his efforts “may have” resonated with some of his defectors from the internal vote.

And McCarthy, who has vowed to take the fight to the floor, expressed confidence about his chances and argued that the decision to hold the forum was not principally to sway votes.


“It’s not about swaying somebody. It’s about working to bring the whole conference together. We’re gonna have a tighter majority. Everyone’s gonna have to learn to give a little. I think my goal at the end of the day is to get everybody together,” McCarthy told the Washington Examiner, adding that he feels “very good” about his odds of locking up support ahead of the Jan. 3 vote.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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