Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
In his quest to be speaker Kevin McCarthy has relied on a team of allies, some them outside House GOP leadership, to corral a fractious conference and broker deals to win over hardline dissenters.
With the California Republican close to capturing the top job, those that are helping him get there could well form a kind of “kitchen cabinet” that could aid the leader as he navigates the legislative and budget battles he faces in the months ahead with a slim majority and the constant threat of rebellion.
Some of those allies who have been working both on and off the floor this week include members of leadership such as Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.
Others, such as Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) don’t hold major roles in the House but possess a particular set of skills key in dealing with the most conservative members.
As of Friday afternoon, it looked as if their approach was working with 14 of the 20 dissenters flipping their support in favor of McCarthy.
“To work through this problem, Kevin needed a group to go communicate with the 20,” McHenry said. “We all just wanted to help and there’s nothing formalized about who did what, it just emerged.”
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said members like Graves and Hill were the “tactful diplomats behind the scenes.”
“They’ve been unsung heroes underneath trying to get agreement,” he said.
The group McCarthy has turned to during the days-long battle for the gavel isn’t formalized, nor is there an exhaustive list. Members said in interviews that other McCarthy allies in the room included Reps. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), likely Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
These members have been sighted entering and exiting negotiations with dissenters during the week.
The binding factor, McHenry said, isn’t a friendship with McCarthy, but people who can bridge the different factions of the caucus.
McHenry praised Graves for his “unique capacity to talk to anyone” and mastery of a broad swath of subjects. Hill, McHenry said “knows much more about the ins and outs of governing and governance than just about anybody in Washington.”
The ability to negotiate with far-right members will be a critical asset in a chamber where Republicans have a margin of four members and more than a dozen members willing to challenge leadership. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus are already eyeing showdowns over raising the debt limit and annual spending bills, seeing them as opportunities to push their priorities.
Some of the concessions that McCarthy apparently granted to win over supporters will also make his job harder, such as allowing just one member to challenge his speakership and giving hardliners more representation on the Rules Committee, which decides the parameters of debate for bills on the floor.
Other members of McCarthy’s leadership team, like Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), have supported McCarthy throughout his bid, but have been absent from core meetings between the conference’s factions.
On Thursday night, reporters crowded Scalise as he headed in the direction of Emmer’s office, where holdouts and allies were meeting. But Scalise ambled right past, turning down another hallway.
“Our leadership is going to be in charge and it goes from there,” McHenry said. “But for this, the assurances we gave one another, we’re still going to have to hold on to that.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org