COMPASS: Conservatives urge a delay in GOP leadership elections

November 14th, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

Congress is back in session and the lame duck session starts now. On deck is a government funding deadline on December 16th, the defense authorization bill, more aid for Ukraine, and possibly even a same sex marriage bill.

But before we even get to that point, the tight majorities in the House and Senate are still taking shape. After losing races in Arizona and Nevada, a GOP majority in the Senate is out of reach. At best, the Senate remains in a 50-50 tie if Herschel Walker prevails over Sen. Raphael Warnock in a runoff in Georgia on December 6th.

There are 19 races still uncalled in the House however. According to Punchbowl News this morning:

Currently, Republicans have won or are favored in 220 seats, Democrats 213, with California’s 13th and 22nd districts as true tossups. These aren’t official totals and could change. But House Republicans seem likely to be in the majority following some favorable vote dumps in Arizona and California on Sunday night.

Even though both chambers are still waiting on elections to be called, both House and Senate Republican leadership are plowing ahead with their leadership elections this week – to stiff pushback from conservatives. In both chambers, conservatives are arguing that the lackluster midterm performance, overseen in large part by the elected conference leadership, should at a minimum prompt an intra-conference discussion before simply handing out promotions to the same people.

Both Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell oversee, in large ways, the campaign apparatus of the Republican Party. They control hiring, candidate selection, strategy, and huge amounts of money that they direct toward (or, in the case of McConnell, direct away) from GOP candidates. Given how dramatically their strategies underperformed this cycle, it would seem some self-reflection is in order. And, as Sen. Lindsay Graham pointed out yesterday, it’s unfair to a potential Senator Herschel Walker (and, by extension, over a dozen potential GOP House members) to strip him of his vote for leadership.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that the Senate’s own GOP conference rules state that conference elections should be held “at the beginning of each Congress,” which is in January, not November. Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Josh Hawley, and Sen. Rick Scott (in addition to Sen. Graham) have all called for the elections to be delayed. Sen. John Barrasso, who is expected to be elected GOP conference chair, has said that the Senate GOP leadership team has no intention of delaying the vote, which currently scheduled for November 16th.

In the House, the House Freedom Caucus has emerged as a foil to the presumptive GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The narrow GOP majority of 220 that may emerge in the next few days gives HFC substantial negotiating power, as McCarthy will need every last GOP vote to reach the 218 necessary to make him Speaker. (Votes for Speaker are conducted viva voce, meaning each Member speaks their vote out loud on the House floor.)

The HFC has put together a list of proposed changes to House rules designed to empower individual members and ensure that a GOP Speaker cannot so easily go the route of former Speaker John Boehner and bypass GOP members to pass bills with Democratic votes. Among their proposed changes is a reinstatement of the “majority of the majority rule,” ensuring no bills come to the floor without a majority of House Republicans supporting them, and mechanisms to ensure more House Republicans get amendment votes. The HFC is also proposing to bring back the motion to vacate, which initiates a vote of no confidence in the Speaker. Nancy Pelosi had done away with this rule under her Speakership, stripping the power of the motion from the general Membership and leaving it to the exclusive purview of the party leadership.

While McCarthy, like McConnell, remains unopposed for his leadership bid, CNN reported yesterday that Rep. Andy Biggs may challenge McCarthy for Speaker. Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Biggs served in the Arizona State House and Senate, and was president of the Arizona Senate from 2013 to 2017.

Leading conservatives, including CPI President Ed Corrigan, CPI senior fellow Mark Meadows, and Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, have signed an open letter supporting efforts by conservatives to delay the leadership votes.

And for no particular reason, I am re-upping three essays I wrote earlier this year (one, two, three) suggesting that if the GOP was unable to put together a forward looking agenda, they would lose. 

The Latest From Around The Conservative Movement

One More Thing…

Don’t miss CPI senior legal fellow Cleta Mitchell’s breakdown of what didn’t happen on election day.