Influential conservative GOP House caucus endorses Kevin McCarthy’s rival for speaker

Though he was not expected to win the support of the House Freedom Caucus, losing the vote was a stinging rebuke for Rep. Kevin McCarthy in his bid to become speaker.

Though he was not expected to win the support of the House Freedom Caucus, losing the vote was a stinging rebuke for Rep. Kevin McCarthy in his bid to become speaker.

(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

Heading into Thursday’s closed-door nomination for House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) ran into some stiff but anticipated opposition after the influential House Freedom Caucus endorsed one of his conservative rivals.

The estimated 40-member bloc of GOP conservatives put their might behind an outlier candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, essentially ensuring that McCarthy – who is still expected to secure the official nomination on Thursday -- will not have enough votes to win a final floor vote on Oct. 29.

The group also rejected Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, leaving his last-minute bid to challenge McCarthy without a core base of support.

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For McCarthy, losing the Freedom Caucus was no surprise. This is the group that has increasingly split from GOP leadership, pushing their priorities even when it courted a government shutdown or led to monumental flare-ups.

But it was still a stinging rebuke for McCarthy, since it came after he had stood before the group and other tea party-aligned lawmakers Tuesday night asking for their endorsement. But in Wednesday’s private balloting, McCarthy didn’t win a single vote.

“He’s saying all the right things, but it’s a matter of his record in the past,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana.

Many Republican lawmakers say they cannot vote to promote the next in line under House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who announced he would resign at the end of the month rather than endure another attempt by conservatives to remove him from leadership.

The Freedom Caucus on Wednesday preferred Webster, a former speaker of the Florida state House of Representatives.

“It is clear that our constituents will simply not accept a continuation of the status quo, and that the viability of the Republican Party depends on whether we start listening to our voters and fighting to keep our promises,” the Freedom Caucus said in a statement. “Webster would be best equipped to earn back the trust of the American people.”

But Webster’s chances are slim because he has little support among Republicans beyond the right flank. Webster won only 12 votes for speaker when he ran against Boehner at the start of this year.

Thursday’s nomination election will be a closed-door affair. McCarthy is expected to win between 180 and 200 votes of the 247-seat House Republican conference.

The challenge ahead, however, is picking up enough support from his GOP colleagues to win a full floor vote, which takes 218 votes – a majority of the entire House.

Between Thursday and the scheduled Oct. 29 final vote, the three candidates will be under enormous pressure to deliver promises to the conservative bloc.

Conservatives want reforms to the rules that would give them a greater say in policy and procedure, changes leaders have been reluctant to make out of concern that the GOP majority will descend into new rounds of shutdown politics with President Obama.

“McCarthy knows he’s got a number issues,” Stutzman said. “He’s reaching out to people.”

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