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Conservative revolt against McCarthy poised to spread to others in GOP establishment

Activists also set sights on RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Senate leader Mitch McConnell

Published: January 3, 2023 10:36pm

Updated: January 4, 2023 12:23am

A decade in the making, the conservative-led revolt that thwarted Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker on three consecutive votes Tuesday isn’t likely to stop in the House as those eager to disrupt the GOP’s status quo also have set their sights on Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Some of the 20 House members who helped deprive McCarthy of the Speaker’s gavel on Tuesday said the votes should serve as a wakeup call to GOP leaders everywhere that the party needs to return to its roots of fiscal conservatism after two decades of reckless spending in Washington.

“In our mind, and so many people's minds, spending is out of control,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told the Just the News, No Noise television show Tuesday night. “[Either] we'll face it now, or just sit here until we come up with some type of solution and a leader that will fight.”

The votes left the House in limbo, without a Speaker and no clear path yet to solve the deadlock, which has pitted Tea Party and America First conservatives against establishment Republicans.

McCarthy lost 19 GOP defectors on each of the first two votes Tuesday, then fared even worse in the third tally when Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., flipped his support from McCarthy to Rep. Jim Jordan.

Jordan, R-Ohio, has said he doesn’t want the speakership and actually gave an impassioned nomination speech on behalf of McCarthy earlier Tuesday.

For McCarthy it was a stinging rebuke on national television as Democrat Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries scored more votes in each of the tallies, though neither man reached the required 218 votes. The losses came seven years after McCarthy’s last bid for Speaker was thwarted.

Republicans went back to negotiations Tuesday night, with the conservative Freedom Caucus members hoping to squeeze more concessions from McCarthy while others struggled to find an alternative candidate who could win.

Norman, one of the first Republicans to publicly oppose McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker last fall, suggested the longtime House leader retool his bid by offering a specific plan to cut spending.

“We’ve got to have a plan,” Norman said. “And [McCarthy’s] got to have a blueprint for what he's going to do.”

Meanwhile, conservatives predicted the unrest in the House could spread to other corners of the GOP, affecting leaders like McDaniel and McConnell.

A Rasmussen Report poll released this week found three-quarters of Republicans want McDaniel replaced and new leadership to steer the party in a different direction.

“The failure of Kevin McCarthy to win on the first ballot reflects national unease among Republicans with the current leadership,” conservative lawyer Harmeet Dhillon told Just the News during a Tuesday phone call following the House floor drama. “We've seen it at the RNC, we’ve seen it in the Senate even though it didn’t result in a leadership challenge — I think it should have. And now we're seeing it in the House.”

Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman from California, is launching a challenge to McDaniel at the party meeting later this month.

“The reason I’m running for RNC chair is because the grassroots of our party, which has been looked down upon for not understanding the process,” she said. “I think they’re very wise and know what’s good for their families. If we ignore them, we will become a permanent minority party which Americans can ill afford.”

During an earlier appearance on the “John Solomon Reports” podcast, Dhillon called out Congressional Republicans for failing to deliver on the most important agenda items for their constituents.

“Our party talked constantly about fiscal responsibility, balanced budget… we really talked about these fiscal conservatism issues,” she said. “And now you see senators blindly voting for a $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that includes massive spending for protecting the border of a foreign country, where they wouldn't pony up the money to protect the border of our own country… So we must return our party to a party of fiscal conservatism… make our party, the party of free speech.”

Just the News reached out to representatives within the RNC and staffers working with McDaniel’s campaign for reelection as chair – along with members of McConnell’s staff -- but did not receive a reply.

McDaniel did, however, appear on Fox News Tuesday to discuss the matter and after attacking GOP dissenters, she pivoted and attempted to call for unity. She also lamented how disorganized this current voting effort looks to the American public from the outside.  

"I was just talking to somebody who said this makes the party look bad. We just elected Republicans to take over the House," she said on “America Reports.” "And why can't you guys unify? And it's division for division's sake. I'm not seeing a policy separation."

"I think we need to come together. We need to unify,” McDaniel added. “We need to unify in our opposition to the Democrats. But right now, this is not helping our party… I think any delay is a delay in getting the business and the work done of the American people. I don't see policy differences that are dividing these votes right now.”

The 80-year-old McConnell on the other hand, has been in a senior GOP leadership role in the Senate for nearly 20 years -- initially dating back to his time as Whip in 2003 – and has seen the national debt explode under his watch, seemingly contributing to the current backlash within Republican ranks.

“We've got to figure out a way within our movement to clear a path for younger, more energetic, more courageous voices,” said former NFL star Jake Bequette, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate as a Republican in Arkansas last year. “Because if that doesn't happen, then the party is going to split itself in two.

“And I think that outcome is inevitable if we just continue along this this status quo path and protect the oligarchs, if you will, within our own party, instead of responding to the will of the people,” he added.

Bequette, who won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, used a sports metaphor to describe many conservatives’ frustrations with their leaders,

“Imagine if there was a college or professional football coach, you know, who went 2-10 every single year. But at the end of every season, he got a raise and a contract extension,” he told the John Solomon Reports podcast. “That's kind of what Republican leadership has been. The country keeps lurching further and further to the left, we go further and further off the rails, but the same people continue to lead us within the party.”

The news wasn’t all bad for McCarthy on Tuesday, as he was supported with an impassioned nomination speech by rising Republican star Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).  

“Kevin McCarthy is a strong conservative. He is proudly pro-life. A supporter of our Second Amendment rights, and he is committed to stopping wasteful government spending and shrinking the size of government,” she argued. “When Republicans last held the majority Kevin helped to reduce domestic spending and lower the tax burden on hard-working American families. And as a Republican leader over the past several years, Kevin has taken the fight to one-party Democrat rule on behalf of the American people.”

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