Moderate Republicans assess tough tactics to counter anti-McCarthy crew


As frustration within the House GOP grew over a small group of anti-Kevin McCarthy lawmakers, an idea to retaliate against the rebel group was floated among some Republicans: kick those members out of their committees, according to several members. involved in conversations.

While previously unreported talk of retaliation for McCarthy’s haters hasn’t gone beyond casual conversations among rank and file members, the threat shows how Republicans – especially moderates — are grappling with ways to act as a counterweight to the so-called “Never Kevin,” which threatens to derail the California Republican’s bid for president.

In addition to expelling McCarthy holdouts from committee assignments, various members are considering several other ways to potentially neutralize the threat from their right-wing colleagues. This includes weighing whether to oppose a set of rules if it includes reinstating an obscure tool that would allow any member to take a floor vote to oust a speaker at any time, as well as the long-term idea of ​​teaming up across the aisle with Democrats to elect a speaker if the race goes to multiple ballots and no one moves.

“Teams win. Fractured teams lose,” GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, co-chairman of the centrist-leaning Main Street Caucus, told CNN, noting McCarthy’s broad support in the conference. “We can’t let a handful hold the conference hostage.”

It’s unclear, however, whether moderates will actually be willing to follow the same hardline tactics often deployed by the far right — especially if it could backfire on McCarthy. Opposing the rules package, for example, could upset any careful negotiation between McCarthy and his critics, so GOP sources don’t believe McCarthy’s supporters would eventually pull it out.

And at a recent meeting involving Republicans who all sit on the same committee, there was a “spirited discussion” over the proposal for a resolution to remove McCarthy holdouts from their panel assignments if they don’t back down. not, according to lawmakers familiar with the situation. But they finally agreed that it might not be the best decision, at least for now.

“You can’t afford to kick people off the island if it gets you below 218 votes,” one member said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Andy Biggs, one of the leaders of the anti-McCarthy team, said he was not intimidated by the prospect of retaliation.

“When you do the right thing, if someone wants to punish you for doing the right thing?” It’s on them,” Biggs said.

The dynamic offers a glimpse of the tensions between the moderate wings and MAGA that are likely to boil over next year with a slim majority in the House. Part of what’s fueling the divide: House Republicans who identify as centrists or are part of the so-called government wing of the GOP feel validated after a midterm cycle in which many hardline candidates failed .

“People need to recognize that we don’t need to double down on failed policies and failed candidates,” said Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina. “There’s a reason midterms were the way they were: people who are left of center, right of center were the most successful.”

While hardliners have drawn up a long list of demands for GOP leadership, with a slim margin, moderate lawmakers — widely known as the party’s majority decision makers — know they can exert equal influence on everything. , from legislation to investigations. And the moderates want to flex their muscles starting with the speaker’s race, which they hope will set the tone for their new majority – even if they struggle to agree on their best options to counter conservative extremists without causing the same chaos they have accused McCarthy’s critics of creating.

“From a government perspective, it’s important that Republicans don’t start Jan. 3 hiding and not having some clarity about what we’re going to be able to accomplish,” the GOP representative told CNN. Steve Womack of Arkansas. “We need to be able to jump in and demonstrate to the American people that the trust they placed in us by giving us a majority, albeit a slim one, was a good move.”

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the few Republican lawmakers to strongly oppose McCarthy as president, also acknowledged the reality of a tightly divided House.

“We are in a community with a common destiny,” he told CNN. “We have to recognize that the ship is going nowhere if five people are not rowing in that direction. And it’s true about impeachment, it’s true about voting for the presidency, it’s true about the budget, it’s true about political choices.

In addition to plotting potential retaliation, those supporting McCarthy are also worried about what kind of deals he might be willing to strike in order to secure the votes for the speaker.

The Republican Governance Group, a centrist-leaning group of lawmakers, huddled with McCarthy on Wednesday to find out where his head is, according to lawmakers in attendance. During the meeting, they told McCarthy they would support him and had pledged to vote for him on multiple ballots if that were to happen. And they also handed out “OK” buttons — which stands for “Only Kevin” — in a joking nod to McCarthy’s opposition.

“Some of the questions that remain unanswered are what other deals are going to be cut, you know, what guarantees, what concessions are going to be made?” asked Womack. “We have to be careful not to give a lot of that leverage.”

“I think he’s dug in on some issues, and probably willing to speak others as he should be,” Womack added after the meeting.

But one member told CNN he also raised concerns with McCarthy about reinstating the motion to vacate the chair. The tool was constantly used on the head of former President John Boehner before he finally resigned, and most Republicans fear it will hamper their ability to govern effectively.

McCarthy is also against the idea, but some sources think he may have to give ground on the issue or find a compromise in order to unlock the remaining votes he needs to become president. The GOP leader has spoken directly to the five people who have publicly spoken out against him, GOP Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, one of the five, told CNN, and is continuing ongoing conversations with various factions. of the Republican Conference.

GOP Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee told CNN that McCarthy was negotiating, “He has to do whatever he thinks he has to do as long as it doesn’t compromise our values ​​as a conference.” Burchett acknowledged that if McCarthy accepted the request to add the chair release to the rules package, it would be “utter chaos, but if McCarthy supports it and can live with it, I’ll be for it.”

In a conference-wide meeting Wednesday, the last in the series before the new Congress, McCarthy held a forum to allow its members to continue debating potential rule changes and other concessions, even if there is still no resolution on the controversial motion to cancel the chair.

“He’s open to a lot of things,” Norman told CNN, including passing the motion to overturn the rule of the chair.

At this point, many members are still preaching unity, calling for the private part of the process to make deals and pointing out that the conference will meet when the new Congress begins on January 3. To that end, the Republican governance group recently sent out a letter urging their colleagues to unite behind McCarthy.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Republicans are out there talking and talking about different points of view,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told CNN.

Even amid the high-stakes negotiations, members of the competing factions had time to have fun with each other. Burchett hosted a Christmas party in his office this week, where all corners of Capitol Hill gathered, including some anti-McCarthy lawmakers. Amidst the Mountain Dew fountain and the charcuterie plate of Cheez Whiz and Ritz crackers, Burchett at one point rode Gaetz’s wife’s skateboard.

Rep. Blake Moore, a Republican from Utah who identifies as part of the government wing, said in the end the different factions actually agreed on most things and rejected the idea that it would be tense next year.

“I’ve said it time and time again: there’s not this huge amount of drama,” Moore told CNN. “I met with members of the House Freedom Caucus to discuss what we agree on. And that’s a huge amount.”


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