Oct 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy allies quietly undercut Scalise's speaker bid

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Confidants of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are advocating against Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) in the upcoming House speaker race, three lawmakers familiar with discussions told Axios.

Driving the news: Consultants and staff have been making calls advising members to hold off on endorsing the Louisiana Republican, according to sources familiar with the outreach.

  • Scalise and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) are vying for the position, with Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) expected to throw his hat in the ring.

Behind closed doors: "It's definitely true that McCarthy through surrogates is calling members to support Jordan," one senior lawmaker told Axios.

  • Another House Republican characterized an exchange with a McCarthy ally as "not advocating [for a particular candidate] so much as suggesting to 'keep their powder dry.'"
  • One of McCarthy's closest allies, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), took a thinly veiled swipe at Scalise on Wednesday, telling reporters: "I think this whole narrative about every member of the existing leadership taking one step up is bullsh*t."

The other side: A McCarthy spokesman denied there was a push against Scalise, telling Axios: "No one has been making calls."

  • A senior GOP source told Axios there is "no active coordination between Jordan and McCarthy."

Zoom in: Scalise and McCarthy have long been viewed as rivals, with tensions spilling over into public eye on multiple occasions in recent years. Sources told Axios it's "not surprising" McCarthy would not look to assist Scalise in obtaining the gavel.

  • Scalise has had a strong show of support out of the gate, with prominent members including House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) endorsing his candidacy.
  • But multiple McCarthy allies have endorsed Jordan, who has locked down some key conservatives and members of the Judiciary committee.
  • Hern is also expected to receive conservative support.

Some swing-district members have expressed concerns about backing Jordan — a former chair of the House Freedom Caucus and Trump ally — while some conservatives have argued they would like a fresh face in leadership.

Zoom out: None of the candidates currently have a clear path to obtaining the 218 votes needed to lock down the gavel.

  • House Republicans are slated to have their candidate forum on Tuesday and internal election on Wednesday.
  • Members and senior GOP sources have noted that they are in uncharted territory and the landscape of the race could change dramatically in coming days.
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