House Republicans grappling with the fallout from smaller-than-expected midterm election gains are scheduled to pick conference leaders on Tuesday, despite projections that haven’t officially determined if they will have control of the chamber.
The elections will be a key step in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) quest to secure the Speakership as conservatives consider withholding their support of him. The elections will also decide a host of other leadership roles in the next Congress, including whip, conference chair and who will next lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
Uncertainty about the outcome of remaining House races has prompted calls by conservatives inside and outside Congress to delay the election, including from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But elections are on track to proceed as planned on Tuesday, with reelected members, members-elect and Republicans in House races that do not yet have a projected winner eligible to vote in the secret-ballot leadership elections.
Speaker of the House
McCarthy, whose 2015 bid for Speaker was thwarted by the confrontational House Freedom Caucus, faces grumbles from conservative members over resistance to rules changes that would give more power to individual members and chip away at that of leadership.
He needs just half of the conference to secure the nomination to the post, which his allies are confident of him achieving. But with members resistant to his Speakership, he may face a tougher road in the official Speaker election on the House floor on the first day of the new Congress in January, when he would need at least 218 votes in a fully sworn-in House — leaving little room for defectors in a narrow majority.
Walking into a House GOP leadership candidate forum on Monday, McCarthy told reporters he was “feeling great” because “we just won the majority.” Sources in the room said that McCarthy got a standing ovation after his speech, and pledged that he would not seek help from Democrats to secure the top post.
Some Freedom Caucus members have withheld support for McCarthy over those rules change demands. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is reportedly considering a protest challenge to McCarthy, but would only tell reporters Monday afternoon “there will be a challenger” to McCarthy on Tuesday.
Not all Freedom Caucus members agree with that tactic of challenging McCarthy, though. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said on former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon’s “War Room” podcast Monday morning that challenging McCarthy would be “a bad strategy” with such a slim majority, fearing that some Republicans could flip to join Democrats and nominate an alternative.
House majority whip
The House majority whip race is the most competitive race in the conference, with three contenders vying for the post: current NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (Minn.), current Chief Deputy Whip Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), and Rep. Jim Banks (Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House.
In materials sent out to members last week, Emmer flaunted his “honest and direct engagement with members” and his work to retake the House majority — focusing on how he built on the 2020 cycle in which Republicans unexpectedly gained seats.
Banks, leaning into his conservative credentials, put a focus on maintaining “relationships with the coalitions who’ve helped us and the voters who elected us.” Concerned Women for America, a right-wing Christian group, endorsed Banks’s whip bid last week. He also notes in leadership materials that he is a veteran.
Banks’s office distributed hard hats and posters with a “blueprint for Keeping our Commitment” to offices on Tuesday, a reference to the House GOP “Commitment to America” policy platform released in September.
Controversy over an anonymous quote in a Daily Beast story about the race mentioning Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s son Buckley Carlson, who works for Banks, added fire to the race. The Fox News host called Emmer to complain, thinking it came from his staff – which Emmer’s team strongly denied. Donald Trump Jr. also chimed in to bash Emmer over the quote.
Ferguson, meanwhile, has campaigned on his experience and already knowing how to do the whip job.
“Having a whip team that is operational on day one is going to be crucial to our success as a conference,” Ferguson said in a letter sent to colleagues last week.
In the candidate forum on Tuesday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) asked Emmer about his vote in favor of a bill codifying same-sex marriage protections that passed the House earlier this year. Emmer responded that “divisive social issues shouldn’t be brought to the House floor,” according to a source in the room.
House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who replaced Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) after she was removed from leadership over her continued vocal criticism of former President Trump, is seeking another term in the position.
Scalise, McCarthy and Trump backed her for the post before the election, and Stefanik in turn preemptively endorsed Trump for a 2024 presidential run.
But she faces a challenge from freshman Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), one of only two Black Republicans currently in the House. Materials sent to colleagues promise an “offensive communications strategy” and propose introducing a regional communications approach to the House GOP.
In contrast with Stefanik, Donalds has not endorsed Trump. But on Monday he denied rumors that he had told colleagues that he supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president in 2024 over Trump.
“I respect both men because I think the next president is coming from Florida,” Donalds said.
National Republican Congressional Committee
With Emmer running for whip, leadership of House Republicans’ campaign arm is up for grabs.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), currently the conference secretary, is seeking the post. Hudson has been plugging his conservative voting record, experience as a campaign manager and conference secretary experience to colleagues, according to a person familiar with his pitch.
Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), the current finance vice chair of the NRCC, was a contender for the position but dropped out of the race on Monday afternoon, calling Hudson to let him know.
Running to fill the conference secretary chair vacancy created by Hudson are Reps. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.), Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) and Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.).
Clyde — who gained criticism after comparing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to a tourist visit — noted his experience as a 28-year Navy veteran and business owner in an announcement of his candidacy.
McClain flaunted her 30-year business experience in a letter to colleagues, and said that she has the “support of the vast majority of this Congress.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is looking to move up to House majority leader, and faces no challenger for the post. Also running unopposed for reelection are House GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson (La.) and House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer (R-Ala.).