The Republican civil war has yet another front: the fight for who’s going to be the next House Republican leader, and whether now-Speaker Paul Ryan finishes out his term before handing over the gavel. It looks like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to maneuver the lame duck Ryan out sooner rather than later, while the Freedom Caucus is anxious that he stay on. That sounds weird given how the Freedom Caucus started the whole process of shoving him out the door last month, but as Laura Clawson points out, “an extended campaign for speaker between McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the majority whip, would give them lots of leverage.”
That might be why Ryan is now putting his thumb on the scale for McCarthy. In a particularly dickish move, Ryan told reporters this morning that he’s sure Scalise will support McCarthy as speaker, putting Scalise in a difficult position.
Ryan said he was “encouraged” that Scalise said this morning that McCarthy ought to be the person to replace Ryan.
It’s unclear where Scalise said that or who was present, and the statement came unexpectedly Thursday during Ryan’s weekly press conference. We also don’t know if Scalise knew Ryan would make that statement Thursday, but it’s clear the intent of Ryan’s words are to set McCarthy up to be the next speaker, should Republicans retain the House.
So one question to think about here is why Ryan is so gung-ho on McCarthy. Is it that whole “Putin is paying Trump” thing? The thing where they all pinky swore that McCarthy wouldn’t say those words outside of that room and nobody would ever leak it? (Which somebody did, so thanks anonymous recorder, whoever you are. Scalise?) Maybe Ryan thinks McCarthy is going to be better at keeping that “in the family.”
As far as it goes, Scalise did say just a few days ago that he wouldn’t run against McCarthy. He said that again on Thursday. But note what he’s saying here—”I’ve never run against Kevin and wouldn’t run against Kevin.” That’s not quite the same thing as “I want Kevin to be Speaker of the House.”
Scalise has a lot of allies who want to see him in the job, and probably enough of them to keep McCarthy from the 218 votes he needs.
This assessment from Politico neatly sums up where we’re at right now: “Ryan would need to get pushed by his own leadership to step down. Will they do that? Maybe, but McCarthy would need to have 218 votes for speaker all but wrapped up by then. Lawmakers are unlikely to commit unless there’s an election date set, and McCarthy declares himself a candidate for speaker. It’s a Catch-22. Can’t set a date without 218. Can’t get 218 without a date.”
All this palace intrigue could soon dissolve into real internecine war. With the Freedom Caucus so clearly engaged, you can almost count on it.