Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, recommended that his right hand in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, move up to the speakership.
The Wisconsin Republican told NBC’s Chuck Todd that “we all think that Kevin is the right person” and predicted a “seamless transition.” He said McCarthy, who failed to garner the votes in his 2015 speaker bid, would be able to muster the needed support this time because he’s been instrumental in passing GOP priorities over the past year.
“What’s changed is we have gotten a lot done. What’s changed is we came together as a team in 2015. We put together an agenda. We ran on that agenda. We won the election. We are executing that agenda. We are getting it done,” Ryan said. “So what’s changed is this leadership team has come together and gelled, this conference has been unified, and we’ve actually moved the ball and gotten things done.”
Ryan’s endorsement may not matter much in the long run; McCarthy’s bigger problem is at the far-right end of the conference. Conservatives blocked McCarthy from the post last time around and are already signaling that they’ll be willing to do the same unless he cuts a deal and empowers the group.
House Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan declared that he was considering his own speakership bid on Friday morning, all but ensuring that McCarthy would not have the votes if the election were held today.
Ryan also said he still intended to serve out his term as speaker, arguing that a leadership race now would be a “needless distraction” from trying to keep the House GOP majority.
Jordan can play a spoiler role for McCarthy and not much else. The majority leader’s main challenger will be Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who has spent much of the last year building bridges to the Freedom Caucus, reaching out to get their input on issues and cultivating relationships.
Scalise and Jordan combined can deny McCarthy the necessary votes. But that doesn’t solve the GOP’s problem of who will succeed Ryan, if not McCarthy.
It’s very possible that in order to avoid a ruinous leadership battle next year, the caucus may rally around McCarthy, giving him the speakership.
But all bets are off if the Republicans are in the minority. If that happens, all establishment Republican members will be blamed for the debacle and it’s possible someone new could emerge. If the GOP loses the House, it will be a messy, contentious battle that could further split the party and make the Democrats’ job of thwarting Trump and impeaching him that much easier.