This nightmare scenario is one that Speaker John Boehner might actually have contemplated when he set the election for his replacement. When he announced his resignation last month, Boehner said it would become effective on October 30. On Monday, he set the floor vote for the day before, allowing for a last-minute change if the House failed to replace him. (A senior member of the Rules Committee, Representative Tom Cole, told reporters on Tuesday that if no one received enough votes on the 29th, Boehner would stay on until someone did.) Boehner also announced that he was pushing back the date of elections for the House’s other top leadership positions to November, meaning that Republicans would only vote to replace McCarthy as majority leader if he wins the floor election as speaker.
McCarthy has himself to blame for a large part of his predicament. His comments suggesting Republicans created the Benghazi Committee to bring down Hillary Clinton have drawn bipartisan rebuke. They gave Chaffetz an opening, and on Tuesday the panel’s chairman, Trey Gowdy, piled on with a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger assessment. “Kevin is a friend, which makes the disappointment, frankly, even more bitter,” he told The Washington Post. Clinton has predictably seized on McCarthy’s remark, and in a move that could further exacerbate the anger among Republicans, plastered them all over the country in a national television ad, her first of the election. The ad prompted McCarthy to issue yet another statement disavowing his unprompted analysis on Fox News.
The mission of the Select Committee on Benghazi is to find the truth — Period. The integrity of Chairman Gowdy, the committee and the work they’ve accomplished is beyond reproach. The serious questions Secretary Clinton faces are due entirely to her own decision to put classified information at risk and endanger our national security.
His supporters, meanwhile, have been forced to defend a man who a week ago was expected to easily slide into the speaker’s chair. “The guy’s been working his ass off for 10 years to be a leader in our party, helping candidates get elected, hosting dinners and everything under the sun,” Rooney said. “Everybody’s allowed to have a slip of the tongue once in a while.”
Supporters of the leadership equate the Freedom Caucus’s tactics to hostage-taking. To Representative Mick Mulvaney, a leader within the group, it’s just negotiation. And he’s not shy about admitting that they are very much playing hard-ball. “I’ve said before and I’ll say again,” he told me. “We do not have enough votes to get one of our people elected. We have enough votes to influence the outcome. That’s fair.”
I asked Mulvaney if he and his colleagues would commit to supporting McCarthy in a floor vote if he won on Thursday? That depends, Mulvaney replied. “What are they offering in exchange?” he said, referring to a proposal by some Republicans to require members of the conference to support the party’s nominee on the House floor. Specifically, Mulvaney acknowledged that the Freedom Caucus wanted its members picked for slots on the leadership-controlled Steering Committee—which assigns lawmakers to the various other committees—and other process reforms that would “empower members.”
The caucus interviewed the three candidates for speaker—McCarthy, Chaffetz, and another long-shot, Daniel Webster of Florida—on Tuesday evening, and Mulvaney said they’re looking for an agreement to be struck before the House votes at the end of the month. “There’s no reason to go to the floor with this,” he said. “There’s no reason to embarrass anybody in public.”
For Chaffetz, it’s that kind of vague threat which gives his candidacy a chance. For McCarthy and his allies, however, it’s a clear signal of more trouble ahead.