Nov 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy's dual threat

Photo illustration of Kevin McCarthy glowing in front of a fire roaring off screen.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Groups on both ideological ends of the House Republican Conference are preparing to exercise considerable power if the GOP manages to win a narrow majority — in leadership elections and beyond.

Why it matters: The dual dynamic is likely to cause headaches for Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy as he tries to unify a polarized conference made up of members ranging from new blue-district moderates to right-wingers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Driving the news: Members of the House Freedom Caucus are openly threatening to sink McCarthy's bid for speaker amid negotiations over several proposed rules changes that would hand significant power from leadership to the rank-and-file.

  • Among the most important of these changes is to allow any member to introduce a motion to vacate the chair — which would force a vote on removing the speaker.
  • Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member who has been a part of the negotiations, said the motion to vacate is a "very important" part of the rules package — though he acknowledged McCarthy "doesn't want to go there."
  • "We want anybody that's seeking a leadership position to embrace some changes that empower members," said Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.), saying of the group's demands for leadership: "Let's have a conversation: what are you willing to do?"

The other side: Conservatives aren't the only ones flexing their muscle.

  • Katherine Sears — a spokesperson for Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), the chair of the moderate Republican Governance Group — told Axios: "I think it’s becoming clear that RG2 will be a big power broker next Congress,” adding that they have "several new members coming in."
  • And the more than 70-member Republican Main Street Partnership, which bills itself as a group of "pragmatic" Republicans, is "negotiating with leadership for some positions," said spokesperson Courtney Alexander.
  • "We are the majority-makers, that’s because of our members … We have 12 now that are coming in," Alexander told Axios.

What we're watching: Several incoming Republican members are from seats that voted for President Biden in 2020 — in some cases by double digits. That's going to create awkward dynamics as the House also welcomes a growing number of right-wing bomb-throwers.

  • Marc Molinaro, who won a Biden district in upstate New York, pushed back on the notion that the narrow majority only empowers a few dozen conservative members: "I suggest it puts [power] in the hands of a few dozen any members."
  • And Mike Lawler, whose ouster of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a Biden +10 district was one of Tuesday's biggest upsets, said on CNN the GOP should "move forward" from former President Trump — a controversial statement as McCarthy maintains close ties with the ex-president.

Editor's Note: This story has been edited to correct Morgan Griffith's name. It was initially published as Morgan Griffiths.

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