EXCLUSIVE: A think tank with close ties to former President Donald Trump is working to mobilize hard-line conservatives within the House Republican conference to block Kevin McCarthy’s ascension to House speaker.
The Center for Renewing America, which is staffed by former Trump administration officials, is whipping members of the House Freedom Caucus against McCarthy. The organization is spearheaded by Russ Vought, who served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under Trump, and claims to be the first and only conservative group leading an organized effort to topple McCarthy.
“We need a wartime leader who eats confrontation with his adversaries for breakfast and is committed to an America First agenda,” Vought told Fox News Digital. “Saving the country requires nothing less.”
At the moment, the Republican majority looks to be anywhere between 218 seats, the bare minimum needed to control the House, and 230 seats. The latter would constitute a sweep of all outstanding races, including some in which Democrats are favored, but still falls far short of the 60 seats McCarthy once said were possible of winning.
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The Freedom Caucus, which has more than two-dozen members, could be pivotal to getting McCarthy across the 218-vote threshold needed to become a speaker.
Complicating matters is that the caucus is split on McCarthy. Some Freedom Caucus members are eager to publicly rebuke McCarthy over ideological disputes.
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“Kevin McCarthy has done nothing in two years to earn my vote,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
Others say that a potential deal could be struck with McCarthy on getting changes to House rules in exchange for their support. The demanded rule changes are technical, but would drastically reduce the House speaker’s control over the legislative process.
Among the conservatives’ demands are restoring the power to remove a speaker by a vote that could be called at any time, ensuring a vote on amendments if 10% percent of the GOP conference is in support, and reinstating a “majority of the majority” rule under which bills would only advance when supported by most GOP members.
“There’s a point of leverage in these leadership votes,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa. “We want to have a conversation, devoid of the politics about who is leading, on how the House should operate, how legislation should pass.”
Stepping into the divide is the Center for Renewing America. The organization is actively lobbying Freedom Caucus members, including those just elected on Tuesday, into opposing McCarthy.
“Members will have to go home and explain to constituents why they are voting for a leader that is not committed to waging war against woke and weaponized government,” said Vought.
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It remains to be seen whether the effort will succeed, especially as the size of the GOP majority is still up in the air. Vought and his staff believe that with a narrow majority even a handful of objections from the Freedom Caucus and other conservative hardliners could fell McCarthy.
Vought and his team bring nearly a decade of experience with GOP in-fighting 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 primary challenges to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and ex-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The center also has on its staff former Trump administration officials Ken Cuccinelli and Kash Patel. It is unclear, however, if either is involved in the effort to topple McCarthy.
McCarthy’s office and political team did not return requests for comment on this story.