Politics & Policy

McCarthy Rivals Try to Slow Down Speaker’s Race

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s rivals for the speaker’s gavel might have different ideas about who should lead the Republican conference, but they agree on one thing: The race to replace John Boehner should unfold as slowly as possible.

A speedy speaker’s race would favor McCarthy, who has the institutional advantages of being the second-most powerful man in the conference and was all-but-endorsed by Boehner on Friday. But the conservative insurgents who precipitated Boehner’s resignation want to use the upcoming race to ensure that the next round of GOP leaders is more aggressive in tactical fights with President Obama and the Republican Senate, which often sees House-passed legislation fail due to Democratic filibusters.

“The most important point in the leadership race going forward is that it go slow,” House Freedom Caucus (HFC) chairman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) tells National Review. “There is no rush on this. We need to make sure that we’re going to change things in Washington so that we can get done what we told the voters we were going to do, and there is no reason to rush into that.”

That tracks with the desires of Republicans who hope to make the leap into a leadership position. Illinois representative Peter Roskam, who is regarded as a potential dark-horse challenger to McCarthy, took a step toward ensuring a slow process on Saturday, when he circulated a letter calling for a special conference meeting to discuss the leadership races. Roskam’s office says the letter has already garnered enough signatures to trigger the gathering under the rules of the House Republican conference. House Budget Committee chairman Tom Price (R., Ga.), who has been endorsed for majority leader by Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan, also emphasized the need for an extended debate before the speaker’s election takes place. “There are many questions and real concerns that must be aired and addressed so that we all have stock in the decisions that will be made in the days ahead,” he wrote in a Sunday e-mail to colleagues obtained by NR.

#share#Allies of Boehner and McCarthy have not hesitated to air their concerns, either. Boehner himself argued that the insurgent back-benchers and outside groups have created the divide between GOP leaders and the conservative base by overinflating voters’s expectations. “Beware of false prophets,” the outgoing speaker warned Sunday on Face the Nation. “There are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done. This whole idea that we were going to shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013, this plan never had a chance.”

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his congressional seat to Dave Brat in a shocking primary defeat last year, made the same argument in reference to the current effort to defund Planned Parenthood. “They have not been honest about what can be accomplished when your party controls Congress, but not the White House,” he wrote of Boehner’s critics. “It is imperative that we fight for what we believe in. But we should fight smartly. I have never heard of a football team that won by throwing only Hail Mary passes, yet that is what is being demanded of Republican leaders today.”

#related#In response to such critiques, Jordan, who has emerged as a key member of the conservative HFC, repeatedly cites the recent polling in which two-thirds of Republican voters feel “betrayed” by party leaders. He also argues that a unified conservative message could overcome a multitude of Democratic objections, citing the Planned Parenthood fight as a case in point. Instead of conceding from the beginning that Congress couldn’t defund the abortion giant without the support of a Republican president, Jordan says, House and Senate GOP leadership should have spent the last several weeks attacking Planned Parenthood and pressuring Senate Democrats to drop their filibuster of legislation to defund the organization. “If we had that kind of effort over two months, imagine where we could be today. We could win this thing,” he says.

While Jordan also acknowledges that his preferred strategy might not have managed to defund Planned Parenthood, he still thinks it would’ve gotten Republicans closer to that goal than they are now. “Even if we were a little short, we’d be in a much better position to move the ball a little further down the field than we are,” he says.

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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