McCarthy plays hardball with GOP rebels over committee assignments

House Republicans are delaying decisions on prime committee assignments and chairmanships for next year, a move that could help Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy undercut challenges to his bid for speaker.

The internal House GOP steering panel was set to meet with candidates this week for contested committee chairmanships, but that schedule was scrapped. Instead, those meetings could be delayed until January, when the panel will also meet with candidates making uncontested bids to chair a committee.

Officially, the delay will only affect three committees: Ways and Means, Budget, and Homeland Security. But the move essentially freezes assignments for all other committees given that the tax-writing Ways and Means is a prize assignment for more than a dozen members.

‘If you can’t decide who is chairman, you can’t decide who is on the committee either,’ said a senior GOP aide. ‘If there winds up being two openings on a committee after the chair is decided, that doesn’t mean there are just two seats to fill. Members leave other committees for better ones; it creates a big shuffle down the line.’

It is unclear how long the delay will last. After the 2016 elections, House Speaker Paul Ryan waited until after the new Congress took office in January 2017 to decide on committee assignments.

That delay helped Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, outflank conservative opposition to his second term as speaker. Ryan’s allies were able to use the threat that conservative opponents would be denied committee assignments.

‘It creates leverage by leaving the threat out there that if you don’t vote for a person, and they become speaker, you will get screwed on committees,’ said a GOP lawmaker who supports McCarthy but opposed Ryan in 2016. ‘But then it also creates resentment among other members who want their assignments against those who oppose the speaker.’

The delay could wind up benefiting McCarthy similarly. The California Republican is facing public opposition from five GOP lawmakers in his question to become speaker.

The opposition is potentially problematic given that the GOP is slated to hold a narrow 222-213 majority next year, and at least 218 votes are needed to elect a speaker when the House convenes on Jan. 3.

One of the GOP holdouts, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs announced Tuesday that he would challenge McCarthy on the House floor in January for speaker.

‘We cannot let this all too rare opportunity to effectuate structural change pass us by because it is uncomfortable to challenge the Republican candidate who is a creature of the establishment status quo, or because the challenge is accompanied by some minimal risk,’ Biggs wrote in an op-ed announcing his candidacy.

McCarthy is not sweating the challenge.

‘I’ll take the speaker’s fight to the floor,’ he said. ‘We’ll have 218. At the end of the day, we’ll get there.’

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