EXCLUSIVE: A think tank with close ties to former President Donald Trump is working to mobilize hardline conservatives within the House Republican Conference to block Kevin McCarthy’s rise to the post of Speaker of the House.
The Center for Renewing America, staffed by former Trump administration officials, is lashing out at House Freedom Caucus members against McCarthy. The organization is led by Russ Vought, who served as director of the White House Office of Administration and Budget under Trump and claims to be the first and only conservative group to lead an organized effort to overthrow McCarthy.
“We need a war leader who eats confrontation for breakfast and champions an America First agenda,” Vought told Fox News Digital. “To save the country, nothing less is required.”
McCarthy claims he is not concerned about a potential leadership challenge from the right. The California Republican notes that he has received Trump’s support for his career as speaker.
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“Because I’ve been the leader for the past four years, we’ve only won seats. It’s the goal to win the majority — we’ve won the majority,” McCarthy said during an appearance on Fox News’ Watter’s World on Thursday. “I think I’ve achieved what we set out to do.”
Right now, the Republican majority appears to be somewhere between 218 seats, the bare minimum needed to control the House of Representatives, and 230 seats. The latter would represent a set of all outstanding races, including some that favor Democrats but still fall well short of the 60 seats McCarthy once said could win.
The Freedom Caucus, which has more than two dozen members, could be instrumental in getting McCarthy above the 218 vote threshold required to become a public speaker.
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To make matters worse, the caucus is divided over McCarthy. Some Freedom Caucus members are eager to publicly censure McCarthy over ideological disputes.
“Kevin McCarthy hasn’t done anything in two years to earn my vote,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
Others say a potential deal could be struck with McCarthy to get House Rules changes in exchange for their support. The requested rule changes are technical in nature, but would drastically limit the House of Representatives’ control over the legislative process.
Conservative demands include restoring the power to remove a speaker by a vote called at any time, ensuring a vote on amendments if 10% of the GOP conference are in favour, and reinstating a “majority majority”. Rule that bills would only be advanced if supported by most GOP members.
“There’s leverage in those leadership voices,” said House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pa. “We want to have a conversation, without the politics, about who’s running, how the house should work, how laws should be passed.”
Stepping into the gap is the Center for Renewing America. The organization is actively lobbying Freedom Caucus members, including those just elected Tuesday, to oppose McCarthy.
“Members need to go home and explain to voters why they are voting for a leader who is not committed to waging war against an awakened and armed government,” Vought said.
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It remains to be seen whether the effort will be successful, especially as the size of the GOP majority is still up in the air. Vought and his associates believe that with a slim majority, even a handful of objections from the Freedom Caucus and other hard-line conservatives could topple McCarthy.
Vought and his team bring nearly a decade of GOP fighting experience to the table.
As a House staffer, Vought was involved in efforts to oust Republican House Speaker John Boehner in 2015.
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The group’s communications director, Rachel Sammel, similarly worked on the key challenges facing Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The center also has former Trump administration officials Ken Cuccinelli and Kash Patel. However, it is unclear if either is involved in efforts to overthrow McCarthy.