The three candidates running to be the next Speaker of the House made their pitch to conservatives Tuesday night as the Republican conference tries to rally around a unifying candidate to lead the body going forward.
During a closed-door meeting just steps from the Capitol, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), each took time laying out their vision for the party moving forward and answering questions from more than 50 members of the House Tea Party Caucus, Freedom Caucus, Liberty Caucus and Conservative Opportunity Group.
“It was a good discussion among colleagues that was indicative of the way things should be done,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R- NC), told reporters as he left the meeting, characterizing it as a “deliberative mood” inside.
Tuesday night’s meeting was an important moment for McCarthy – the favorite to win the race – as he tries to distance himself and his tactics from outgoing Speaker John Boehner.
“McCarthy's pitch was I'm not John Boehner, I'm going to run things differently, I'm my own man,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) recounted. “I think that’s a case he does have to make.”
Many members of the conservative groups voiced concerns over how the House works and the process leadership has followed in recent years. These conservatives questioned whether McCarthy – the current number two in the House – would lead in a different way.
“If we’ve had a leadership that many of us feel has failed, why would we want to promote anyone from within that leadership to a higher position,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) asked. “It doesn’t make common sense.”
But Meadows, who filed a motion to try and kick Boehner out of the speakership earlier this summer, admitted McCarthy tried to convince the roughly 50-members in attendance Tuesday night that he could change the process.
“He made a compelling case tonight,” Meadows said of McCarthy.
The Majority Leader has stumbled since announcing his run for Speaker – making comments seeming to suggest that the House Select Committee on Benghazi was politically motivated to try and hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. These controversial comments – coupled with conservative skepticism – have created a potential opening for another candidate for speaker.
“We are still an underdog,” Chairman Chaffetz told reporters outside the Capitol Hill Club Tuesday about his run for speaker but said, “I am offering myself as an alternative. I still think there is a need and a desire to unify this party. I think I am uniquely situated to do that.”
The Utah congressman – who said McCarthy was “a little surprised and disappointed” at the news of his candidacy – described his time meeting privately with House conservatives as “fun” and “really good."
“I love talking about the direction of the country and what we should be doing and how we should fundamentally do business around here,” Chaffetz said.
But there could be as many as 40 members of these conservative groups that have not made up their mind on who to vote for.
The Republican Conference meets Thursday afternoon to vote for speaker but then the full House must vote on October 29. During that vote, the candidate must secure at least 218 votes to win – some members worry that number might not be attainable, at least not at this point.
“I don’t know if any of them can get to 218 without really addressing some of the rules and some of the structure,” Meadows, who is still undecided, said.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) remains skeptical of the vote count, as well, but felt each of the candidates “helped themselves” addressing the forum Tuesday.
“I was glad we have three candidates and it’s a competitive race for speaker. We have a couple days to pull together some type of consensus,” said King, who is supporting Meadows.
Several conservatives echoed the belief that the Republican Conference should get behind whoever emerges as the nominee for speaker following Thursday’s election rather than face a floor fight at the end of the month.“Whoever gets nominated by the conference has got to have the leadership skills to pull together 218 to support him [on the floor],” Farenthold said. “He has got to be able to do it or he is not going to be a good leader.”