Mar 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House GOP leaders plead with Republicans to stop campaigning against each other

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks at the GOP's retreat in West Virginia. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — House Republican leaders are pleading with GOP members to stop campaigning against each other as the party's internal divisions threaten its razor-thin majority in the chamber.

Why it matters: Speaker Mike Johnson's team is worried that the spats fueling the GOP's dysfunction in the House are carrying over into campaigns for the Nov. 5 elections — giving Democrats an easier path to take control of the chamber.

  • But there are signs that the GOP's circular firing squad is continuing. Among them: Less than 100 of the 219 Republican House members are attending their retreat here at the Greenbrier resort.
  • And some firebrand conservatives — including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and key members of the House Freedom Caucus — are campaigning against colleagues who are facing primary challenges, such as Reps. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), William Timmons (R-S.C.) and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).

Zoom in: Johnson (R-La.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told roughly 60 members in a closed meeting here that the attacks on their caucus members are counterproductive to the party's goals.

  • Johnson "just excoriated those who are campaigning against other GOP incumbents in their districts," one lawmaker in the room told Axios. "[He] said it violates our norms."
  • "Scalise seconded what Johnson said. There's no reason to be campaigning against each other," the source added.

What they're saying: The House GOP's campaign arm doesn't play in primaries, but its leaders said they support keeping incumbents in place and focused on November.

  • "My focus is beating Democrats — I'm not involved in the primaries, except when we have incumbents in primaries, you know, we support our incumbents. But I'm focused on the general election and picking up seats," National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson told Axios.
  • Hudson added that he hasn't talked with members who are attacking their colleagues "in an official way," but added, "Obviously, people are talking about it."
  • "I support our Republican incumbents and my position that I've taken in leadership ... [is] we strongly support them," House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) told reporters.

The other side: Those backing far-right challengers to GOP incumbents are standing by their actions.

  • "I can't quite hear the speaker and the leader from where I am, in San Antonio," Gaetz — who's not at the retreat — told Axios.
  • "But they both have my number. And neither has ever asked me to stop campaigning against blah incumbents."
  • "I hope my colleagues enjoy their 'retreat' in West Virginia. I'm on the advance in Texas."

The intrigue: Chaos in the House has sparked some members to exit Congress with time left in their terms — whittling the GOP's majority to two seats and even raising the possibility that Democrats could take over the chamber before the election.

  • But senior GOP lawmakers argue that Democrats also are dealing with fractures in their party.
  • "Democrats have primaries, too. I mean, [in] New York, there's major infighting among the Democratic conference with some of these primaries," Stefanik said.
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