House Speaker Paul Ryan will endorse House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, in the high-profile race for who will succeed him. Ryan plans to make his endorsement official in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
In endorsing McCarthy, Ryan is trying to ensure a smooth transition for Republican leadership during an unpredictable year. McCarthy is one of two men seen as leading contenders for the spot; the other is Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana conservative who gained national attention after he was shot and seriously wounded at a congressional baseball practice last summer. Scalise is the only Southern Congress member in leadership. And it already seems like Freedom Caucus co-founder Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is looking to shake up the race.
McCarthy has a close relationship with President Donald Trump and has been angling for the job of speaker for years, trying unsuccessfully to succeed John Boehner. McCarthy doesn’t quite have Ryan’s policy chops, but he’s well-known, well-liked and a skilled political tactician.
Ultimately, Ryan’s endorsement is symbolic, but it also carries a lot of weight among rank-and-file House Republicans. There were earlier signs that Ryan wanted his majority leader to succeed him; on Thursday, he said he was “encouraged” that Scalise had said McCarthy should take up the mantle. Scalise has said publicly that he would not run against McCarthy.
Whoever wins the speakership needs a simple majority of the entire House — about 218 votes. Now McCarthy needs to work hard to win over the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative faction among House Republicans, numbering 40 members. That may be good news for McCarthy because he is close to Trump — as is House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, a conservative from North Carolina. Meadows and McCarthy both have the ear of the president, and that commonality may well unite them in the weeks ahead.
Of course, none of this may matter given the tough political realities Republicans are facing in 2018. With Democrats ahead about 7 points on the most current generic ballot, the 2018 midterms are poised to be a blue wave election year.
That would mean the leadership battle would shift across the aisle, where there is lots of chatter on whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will run again or face a challenge from a younger member.
Right now, the race is between Scalise and McCarthy (with McCarthy poised to come out on top), but there’s a possibility we could be talking about a whole other set of players after November 6, 2018.