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Semafor LogoKadia Goba
Kadia Goba
politicsNorth America

The House Freedom Caucus isn’t handing Kevin McCarthy the gavel just yet

Kadia is a Political Reporter for Semafor, joining us from BuzzFeed News. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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Title iconThe News
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy arrives to address supporters.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Members of the House Freedom Caucus aren’t happy with Tuesday’s election results and want a plan, any plan, from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy before giving him the gavel. It’s part of a continuous push from the hard-right caucus to leverage their power in what will potentially be a slim majority if Republicans regain the House.

McCarthy released the “Commitment to America” in September, a broad overview of goals Republicans want to achieve in the majority. But HFC members want details on how the presumptive leader plans to address the debt ceiling, inflation, the U.S.-Mexico border, and investigating the COVID-19 response.

“I haven't seen a plan on what to do to demand that we secure our borders where Texans are getting assaulted,” Texas Rep. Chip Roy told reporters. “So, until I see a plan with any kind of leadership, which again is not something you run for, it's something you demonstrate, then again, nobody's earned 218 votes.”

Underwhelming election results are the latest point of contention.

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“Let’s just review last Tuesday night. I think it was pretty, pretty interesting,” Rep. Andy Biggs, a member of HFC, told reporters Thursday when asked why he hasn’t thrown his support behind McCarthy.

HFC members released a rules package this summer demanding procedural reforms including ending proxy voting, adding flexibility to propose amendments, and restoring the motion to vacate — a procedure that would enable any member to bring a vote to remove a speaker at any time — though members seem split on insisting on the last point.

Leadership votes are supposed to take place next week, but Republicans, as it stands, don’t have the seats that would put them in the majority, as races are still being called. HFC members had pushed to vote on the rules package before the speaker’s vote but the idea has since been rejected by leadership, according to Roy.

“We don’t know how many people will be in this Republican majority but I can assure you, that as of this broadcast, Kevin McCarthy does not have the 218 votes to become speaker of the House, and we should not give them to him,” Rep. Matt Gaetz said on his podcast “Firebrand.”

Meanwhile McCarthy has already empaneled a transition team including two of his top deputies, Reps. Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise. Both of their names have been floated as alternatives to McCarthy for the speaker’s role and both have publicly stated they’re not interested in the position.

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undefined headshotKadia's view

Distrust of leadership runs deep in some segments of the conference. With a close majority, McCarthy is going to have to make deals to secure the speakership, empowering members who don’t fully support him. Even if he succeeds, this dynamic is going to make the John Boehner era seem like a walk in the park. Republicans struggled to come together on major votes then, even with a comfortable majority and an election the caucus felt great about in 2010.

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

Not everyone agrees with using the motion to vacate model to get rid of the speaker, including Rep. Thomas Massie who wrote the version that ultimately contributed to then-Speaker Boehner’s resignation.

“It’s stupid to ask for it,” Massie told Semafor. "There are plenty of other ways to emasculate a speaker and anyone who thinks the motion to vacate is a hard line is guilty of historical illiteracy and a lack of imagination."

ONE GOOD FACT: Massie says he still has a copy of the draft rule he and Mark Meadows co-authored in 2015 that ousted Boehner.

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