Nov 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Conservatives mount effort to delay GOP leadership elections

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell have a conversation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Photo: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images.

Conservatives both inside and outside of Congress are engaged in a coordinated effort to pressure House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to postpone GOP leadership elections.

Why it matters: Conservatives are trying to consolidate power within the party after an unexpectedly weak midterm showing that saw Democrats keep control of the Senate and House Republicans on track for a razor thin majority.

  • On the House side, the right-wing Freedom Caucus is threatening to derail House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) bid for the speakership while trying to extract significant rules changes from him.

Driving the news: In an open letter reported by Axios' Jonathan Swan, dozens of prominent Republicans and leaders of conservative groups called to delay the elections in both chambers, which are scheduled for this week, until after the Dec. 6 Senate runoff in Georgia.

  • "Many current elections are still undecided. There should be no rushed leadership elections," the letter says.

What they're saying: A handful of Republican senators have been openly pushing for a delay, most recently Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said it would be "disrespectful" to Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker to vote for leadership on Wednesday as planned.

What we're hearing: Several Freedom Caucus members and incoming House Republicans — many of whom arrived in D.C. on Sunday for new member orientation — told Axios they believe the Tuesday leadership vote is too early.

  • "We don't even know if we're in the majority yet, so I think it's responsible to just ... see where the cards fall," said Rep.-elect George Santos, a Republican in New York.
  • Rep.-elect Cory Mills of Florida, a prospective Freedom Caucus member, said elections "100% should be delayed."
  • Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), an incumbent Freedom Caucus member, said it is "way too early" to vote.

The other side: Others, like Reps.-elect Nick LaLota and Mike Lawler, both of New York, said they are prepared to vote on Tuesday. Both said they are supporting McCarthy for leader.

  • "I'm fully confident that everybody who is running for leadership has taken some time to really develop a roadmap of where they want to be," said Rep.-elect Zach Nunn of Iowa. "This really isn't a surprise to anybody."

Reality check: So far the calls for a delay are mostly confined to a narrow group of conservatives and Trump allies.

  • There is no indication that leadership in either chamber plans to buckle to the pressure from their respective right-wing blocs.
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