McCarthy May Face ‘Backlash’ Over Bid to Court Holdout Lawmakers

  • Subcommittee chairs, committee spots part of negotiations
  • Centrists members, appropriators raised concerns on Thursday

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Some House Republicans are worried that Rep. Kevin McCarthy may be going too far in making concessions to the far right in order to win their support for his bid to be speaker, the last obstacle in his quest to lead the chamber.

Rank-and-file conservatives and moderates told Bloomberg Government they are increasingly frustrated by the rules changes and potential committee assignments McCarthy is offering to the 20 dissidents – who have united over multiple rounds of balloting over three days to deny him the votes needed for speaker – to get their support. The pushback from the more mainstream lawmakers reflects the delicate balance McCarthy needs to find in appeasing a fractious conference if he hopes to claim the top job.

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), left, speaks to Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on the House floor this week.

The requests from the right including having Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) head the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and giving Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) the gavel of a House Armed Services subcommittee. Both Gaetz and Harris are seen as stubborn and uncompromising by many on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday night, McCarthy also offered to put Freedom Caucus members on the influential Rules Committee, according to reports.

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Many House Republicans are already uncomfortable with some of the concessions McCarthy is making to hardliners in the House rules package, including possible limits on earmarks and making it easier to remove a speaker, and say the further he goes the more that he risks their support.

‘Sticky Ground’

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), an appropriator and supporter of McCarthy, said members would view the California Republican as going “too far” if he were to remove sitting members from committees or give gavels to members not in line for them. It could even cost him votes for speaker.

“You’re getting into some real sticky ground that then you could cause a backlash,” Aderholt said, adding he did believe different groups of House Republicans should be represented on each committee.

“We want to try to meet you half way,” he said. “But we can’t just say anything goes.”

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), said he wanted to see concessions McCarthy was making “line by line and maybe name by name.” When asked if he were frustrated, Womack said that was too mild.

“There’s not a word,” he said. “Webster hadn’t come up with a word yet.”

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), a centrist aligned with McCarthy, acknowledged there’s tension among members, but chalked it up to negotiations accelerating.

“Every deal that happens in Washington, D.C. is going to feature a lot of irritation,” he said.

Downplaying Tensions

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of McCarthy’s top lieutenants, speaking on CNN, downplayed any tensions and said a deal with wide GOP support would emerge.

“I think once we understand each other fully, I think people will like what we’ve come up with,” McHenry said.

There are already some limits to what McCarthy is able to promise on committee assignments. An internal Steering Committee nominates most committee chairs and doles out members’ committee assignments. While the speaker has significant sway over the panel, he needs other members to support his picks.

Several lawmakers said they have been assured that McCarthy would not give away subcommittee gavels to members as part of the negotiation and still allow chairs to choose their own subcommittee members.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a moderate McCarthy supporter, said at the end of the day, a fraction of the House GOP shouldn’t hold all the power.

“I call it affirmative action,” Bacon said. “For the smallest of the caucuses, to put them in leadership roles when they’ve not earned it. We believe in a merit-based system.”

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now a rank-and-file member, said it would have been better for the institution if McCarthy had won on the first ballot.

“I think what you’re seeing is the incredibly shrinking speakership in terms of all the deals that are being made and the rest, and that’s most unfortunate,” she said.

With assistance from Alex Ruoff, Zach C. Cohen, Chris Cioffi, and Jack Fitzpatrick

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: George Cahlink at; Bennett Roth at

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