Nov 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Freedom Caucus fires its warning shot at McCarthy

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House Freedom Caucus is preparing to challenge Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday in a preliminary vote on the path to House speaker — though even McCarthy's critics acknowledge the effort will likely fail.

Why it matters: The true goal is to demonstrate that McCarthy doesn't have the numbers he needs to ultimately be elected speaker unless he makes concessions to bring his party's right flank on board.

  • While McCarthy only needs the majority of GOP members in a secret ballot vote on Tuesday, he will need 218 of his members to elevate him to the speakership.
  • With Republicans on track to have a majority of just a few seats, he will have very little margin for error.

What they're saying: Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member who has been one of the most vocal advocates for a challenge to McCarthy, told Axios that Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former Freedom Caucus chair, "will be a candidate" on Tuesday and that he will "absolutely" vote for Biggs.

  • “I fully expect Kevin McCarthy will get the majority of votes tomorrow," Good conceded, "However, I don’t think he will get to 218 … and then we’ll see what develops from that. I think there will be a number of individuals who will start to wonder, could perhaps they get 218 votes.”
  • Biggs declined to comment directly on whether he would run. “My only statement is this: that no one has 218 votes, and there will be a challenger [to McCarthy] tomorrow,” he told Axios.
  • A handful of others, including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas), have been outspoken in their opposition to reelecting McCarthy.

Yes, but: Even some Freedom Caucus members and other members with a history of antagonizing leadership are lining up behind McCarthy.

  • "Look, you guys know where I am ideologically," Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters, "[but] let's be honest, McCarthy is a savant at human nature. So I think we can make this work."
  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who isn't in the Freedom Caucus but is one of the most rogue GOP members, said of his vote for speaker, "I am not planning to vote against [McCarthy] ... I don’t see any viable, better alternative at the time.”
  • Massie noted that he was instrumental in ousting former Speaker John Boehner in 2015 and said "the most disappointing day" of his career was when Paul Ryan was voted in to replace him: "You can keep someone from being speaker. But what's your end goal?"

Between the lines: Behind the scenes, the Freedom Caucus is trying to leverage the narrow margin to get McCarthy to give them rules changes that would hand power from leadership to rank-and-file members.

  • One of those – allowing any member to force a vote on ousting the speaker – is a non-starter for McCarthy and his allies. "I'm absolutely opposed to that," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the House Rules Committee.
  • Massie said he agrees that conservatives should focus on "fixing the rules of the House," but that allowing those motions is a "goofy thing to ask for."
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