The crucial voting bloc of conservative members of Congress plan to spend Tuesday evening interviewing the three announced candidates for speaker of the House.
In what’s being billed as the “Conservative Group Forum for Speaker Candidates,” four different groups made up of Republican lawmakers will meet privately with Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Florida Rep. Daniel Webster.
The groups participating in the closed-door session at the Capitol Hill Club are the Tea Party Caucus, the House Freedom Caucus, the Conservative Opportunity Society, and the House Liberty Caucus. Some of the people in these groups have been outspoken in their opposition to outgoing Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team but have not yet said who they will support to replace him.
The meeting could be significant ahead of Thursday’s vote, where Republicans will select their nominee to replace Boehner. It’s especially important to McCarthy, the House majority leader.
It’s possible that McCarthy could win Thursday’s conference vote, but fail to win the necessary 218 votes when the entire House of Representatives gathers Oct. 29 for a public vote. That’s because conservatives, many of them part of these groups, might refuse to vote for him during that public vote, denying him the majority to become speaker.
That’s the point being made by Chaffetz, who entered the race over the weekend by arguing McCarthy won’t be able to win the public vote because he was part of Boehner’s leadership structure.
“There is a clear recognition that Kevin McCarthy enjoys the majority of the conference’s support,” Chaffetz told reporters Monday. “But that’s dwindling, it’s not growing, and there will be a realization at some point that he can’t get to 218. And that’s just the reality.”
While McCarthy is believed to have commitments from a large number of Republicans to support him as speaker, he hit a speed bump by making a gaffe while on Fox News last week. Speaking to Sean Hannity, McCarthy discussed how the Benghazi committee in the House has hurt Hillary Clinton. That has given Democrats and Clinton’s campaign the talking point to dismiss the congressional hearings as politically motivated.
On Tuesday morning, McCarthy continued to try clean up those comments. “The mission of the Select Committee on Benghazi is to find the truth — period,” he said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Webster, the other candidate in the race, made his pitch to his fellow Republicans in a video and email message.
“I’ve been here before,” Webster said. “When I became Speaker of the House in Florida, we transformed the legislative process into one that was based on principle, not on power, so every member had the opportunity to participate. Rather than pushing against deadlines, we took up the most important issues first. I’m running to take on the current system in Washington.”