The election of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as the new House majority leader has failed to extinguish the rumblings of discontent by far-right lawmakers that could lead to an effort to oust House Speaker John Boehner in January.
McCarthy, of California, beat his more conservative opponent, Rep. Raul Labrador, of Idaho, to take the number-two position in the House. McCarthy's win disappointed a group of Republicans who were hoping to push the top leadership further to the right.
Their next opportunity to bring a more conservative voice into the leadership could come in January, when the House votes to elect a new speaker and a only small group of Republicans would be necessary to block Boehner from a third term with the gavel.
It’s a scenario that nearly played out in 2012, when a group of conservative Republicans planned to vote together to block Boehner before backing down at the last minute.
“There are members who still believe that we need a change who are having conversations, and that hasn’t stopped,” Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who was part of the 2012 coup effort, told the Washington Examiner. “The frustration is still here.”
Conservatives are said to be huddling over who they can tap to run as speaker who can win the 218 votes needed to be elected. Since both the Democrats and Republicans vote for speaker, the GOP would need to be nearly universally united behind one candidate, assuming the party's 15-vote majority holds after the November election.
“Right now we are in the very beginning stages of looking at opportunities,” Jones said, declining to say who might be under discussion. “You have to have a plan and you have to methodically put the plan in place.”
A top choice is said to be House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who refused to jump into the race against McCarthy.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., a Labrador supporter, said McCarthy’s election leaves the leadership essentially as it was — not conservative enough.
“It’s not going to quell the adversarial viewpoints,” Gosar told the Examiner. “It’s going to actually increase.”
McCarthy and Boehner, Gosar said, “are just not the right people for the job at this time.”
The far-right flank has been repeatedly frustrated by the leadership for pushing immigration reform legislation that could lead to increased immigration or a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people now living here illegally. And they were angered by budget deals cut by the GOP leadership and President Obama as well as Senate Democrats that resulted in tax increases, more spending and a revocation of billions of dollars in hard-fought budget cuts.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he is willing to give the “new team” a chance as long as they do not bring comprehensive immigration reform to the House floor.
“I’m just going to have to keep manning the watchtowers 24-7,” he told the Examiner.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who was part of the 2012 coup attempt, said conservatives missed their chance with Thursday's leadership elections.
“I know there are other members who have talked about making a push after the November elections,” Amash told the Examiner. “But if people didn’t want to step up in this election, I don’t know how it’s going to be successful in November, where it would be more difficult for conservatives to actually overcome the advantages of established leadership.”
Conservatives also pointed to Thursday’s election of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., as majority whip. Scalise is a past chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative group of House Republicans. He’s also from a red state, something that conservatives want to bring to the leadership.
“The more we have strong conservative leaders like Scalise, that may take pressure off,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said.
But Fleming wouldn’t predict an Boehner victory in January.
“We need to see a lot play out,” Fleming said. “I do not know.”
Boehner may benefit from an abbreviated legislative calendar. The House will adjourn for the summer before the Boehner-McCarthy team takes control.
By the time the new leadership is operating the House, it will be the second week in September, with a target adjournment in October so that lawmakers can hit the campaign trail.
Lawmakers point out that amounts to about 12 working legislative days until the end of the year, hardly enough time to push through bills that would anger the far right.
“The speaker has improved,” Fleming added. “I just want the person who is best qualified, and most conservative.”