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House Republicans Launch Quick Campaigns for Leadership Elections Next Week

Contested races emerge for minority leader and conference chair

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, waits to do a television news interview in the Capitol on Wednesday. Jordan is making his case to his House Republican colleagues that he should lead them as minority leader in the next Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, waits to do a television news interview in the Capitol on Wednesday. Jordan is making his case to his House Republican colleagues that he should lead them as minority leader in the next Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After a disappointing midterm performance, House Republicans spent Wednesday gearing up for their leadership elections next week, with candidates promising they’ll spend the next two years helping their party reclaim their lost majority.

“I helped build a majority from a deeper hole than this, and I have what it takes to do it again,” California Rep. Kevin McCarthy said in a letter to colleagues. “That is why I have decided to run for Republican Leader and humbly ask for your support.”

McCarthy, the current House GOP No. 2, is not running uncontested for the top Republican post. Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan wants to be minority leader too, although he does not appear to have the level of support McCarthy does. 

“The president’s got a lot of things done, and we’ve helped with some of that certainly, the regulation reform and the tax cuts, but some of those other big promises we’ve made to the American people we did not get done,” the Ohio Republican said Wednesday in an interview with Hill TV.

“And they’re not seeing the intensity to get those things done that I think we told them we were going to have. And so that’s what this is all about. The minority leader is all about getting us back in the majority so we can accomplish for the American people what they elected us to do,” he said.

From the Archives: Ryan, McCarthy Say Reports of Leadership Coup ‘Not True’

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House Republicans will hold their leadership elections on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

The silver lining of losing the majority for McCarthy is that he’s expected to easily be elected to lead House Republicans. His prospects under a GOP majority would have been dicier.

In that scenario, Jordan would have had the power to coalesce his conservative allies to oppose McCarthy’s speakership bid. It wouldn’t have mattered in the conference vote, because McCarthy likely would have majority support there. But a speaker needs to secure 218 votes to be elected on the floor, and the Freedom Caucus could have prevented that from happening.  

Now McCarthy faces a clear path to being elected minority leader, since it only requires a simple-majority vote of the GOP conference. 

That path was made easier after Louisiana’s Steve Scalise announced he would run for minority whip, ending speculation he was considering challenging McCarthy. 

Still, McCarthy and Scalise may have to convince some Republicans that there is value in keeping the current leadership largely intact.

They both wrote lengthy letters to their colleagues Wednesday making that pitch. 

McCarthy outlined a series of expectations he’s laid out for himself. Those include listening to feedback from all segments of the conference, working to promote conservatives’ convictions and using every tool at the Republican minority’s disposal to challenge the Democratic majority and move the GOP-controlled Senate to the right.

The latter seemed to be a direct appeal to the Freedom Caucus, which has used various legislative and parliamentary tools and leverage points in negotiations to advance its goals. 

McCarthy is also setting an expectation for himself that he’ll lead Republicans back to the majority in 2020. 

“We may have lost this battle, but the struggle for America’s future is just beginning,” he said. “And the terrain now shifts in our favor, with at least a dozen seats in Trump-carried districts providing opportunities for us to go on offense starting today.”

Scalise’s pitch was not dissimilar to McCarthy’s. He too talked of trying to win back the majority by fighting for conservative principles. And his personal promises included listening to everyone in the conference and increasing member involvement as he called on House Republicans to unify and be “more forward-looking and ideas-driven, more strategic.”

“Together, we must harness the tremendous talent throughout our Conference, build coalitions to help our members achieve wins wherever possible, and help our members aggressively make the case for how we would use the Majority to solve the big and real challenges facing the American people,” he said. “While in the minority, we must have a frank, open conversation that builds consensus not only on what we hope to achieve, but how best to achieve it.”

Conference chair contest

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the only woman on the current GOP leadership team, has not yet announced her plans but is expected to run for her current post as conference chairwoman. 

But she faces a challenge from another woman, freshman Rep. Liz Cheney

The Wyoming Republican announced her bid in a letter to colleagues that cited the need to “fundamentally overhaul” Republicans’ messaging operation.

“We need to be able to drive our message across all platforms,” she said. “We need to own the daily news cycles. We need to lead and win the messaging wars. Too often we have found ourselves playing catch up without access to useful information, and we have not been on offense. Constantly playing defense in the battle of communications is a recipe for failure. We need to work as a team to use all our messaging tools to drive our agenda.”

North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, the outgoing chairman of the Republican Study Committee, announced a bid for conference vice chairman and is currently running unopposed. 

In a letter pitching his candidacy, Walker said Republicans in the minority will have to adapt to fighting on unfamiliar territory as they seek to take their message to new communities and arenas. 

Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, the current conference secretary, is expected to run for the post again and does not appear to have any competition. 

A contest could emerge for Republican Policy Committee chairman as Freedom Caucus members Gary Palmer of Alabama and David Schweikert of Arizona have both expressed interest in running.

Campaign chief opening

Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers will not seek a second term as head of the House GOP’s campaign arm after the party’s losses this cycle. 

In a statement, Stivers thanked National Republican Congressional Committee team members for their “tireless efforts” and credited them and the GOP incumbents and candidates with preventing a larger Democratic majority.

A couple of members are considering running for NRCC chairman but none have made official announcements. Potential candidates include Reps. Roger Williams of Texas, who ran against Stivers for the post in 2016, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Mimi Walters of California (whose race had not yet been called at press time), Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Ann Wagner of Missouri. 

Williams spokeswoman Hanna Allred said her boss has received numerous calls from colleagues urging him to run and he looks forward to discussing his vision for the NRCC when Congress returns next week.

While Allred did not explicitly say Williams was running, she noted he stands by his pitch from the last cycle about lowering member dues to increase membership participation.

“Unsurprisingly, there was a lack of money at the NRCC due to outrageously high member dues,” she said.

Davis spokeswoman Ashley Phelps said donors, colleagues, and others have approached him about seeking the position and the congressman is keeping his options open.

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