GOP lawmaker warns of losing House majority over McCarthy’s removal

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a veteran GOP lawmaker who chairs the House Rules Committee, has warned that the conservative hardliners who helped oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker could “very easily” cause the party to lose its House majority in 2024. Cole told The Atlantic that the hardliners “just took out our best player” as the party looks to defend its slim 221-212 House majority headed into a presidential election year.

Cole strongly vouched for McCarthy shortly before he was ousted as speaker in a 216-210 vote on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. He said that McCarthy had the support of the “overwhelming majority” of the GOP conference and praised his leadership in the lower chamber. He also criticized the “small group” of hardliners who wanted to “plunge this body into chaos and this country into uncertainty for reasons that only they really understand.”

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma

McCarthy’s removal sparks leadership crisis

McCarthy’s removal as speaker was a stunning blow to the GOP, which had regained control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections after losing it in 2018. McCarthy had been elected as speaker in January 2023, succeeding Nancy Pelosi, who had led the House Democrats for 18 years. He had been seen as a close ally of former President Donald Trump and a pragmatic leader who could balance the interests of the various factions within the GOP.

However, McCarthy faced growing opposition from some conservative hardliners, who accused him of being too weak and compromising with President Joe Biden and the Democrats on key issues such as infrastructure, debt ceiling, and immigration. They also blamed him for failing to prevent the bipartisan commission on the January 6 Capitol riot, which they viewed as a witch hunt against Trump and his supporters.

The hardliners, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, launched a surprise motion to vacate the chair on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, which required a simple majority to pass. They managed to persuade eight Republicans to join them in voting with 208 Democrats to oust McCarthy from the speakership. The eight Republicans who voted against McCarthy were Jordan, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Mo Brooks of Alabama.

Cole fears losing candidates and majority

Cole told The Atlantic that McCarthy’s ouster could have serious consequences for the GOP’s chances of holding onto its House majority in 2024. He said that McCarthy had been instrumental in recruiting and supporting strong candidates in competitive races in 2020 and 2022, and that his removal could discourage potential candidates from running under the GOP banner.

“This is going to cost us candidates,” Cole said. “They just messed up the House. They had no exit plan, no alternative strategy, no alternative candidate.”

Cole also said that the hardliners had put “sharp knives in the hands of children, and they used them” to undermine their own party’s interests. He said that they had “materially hurt” the GOP’s chances of holding onto the majority by creating division and instability within the conference.

“I think these guys very easily could cost us our majority,” Cole said. “That’s just the reality.”

Cole himself has been suggested as a possible consensus candidate who could unite the House GOP conference, but he told The Atlantic that he had no interest in becoming speaker. He said that the chance of him becoming speaker was “very low, and if I have anything to say about it, zero.”

Currently, the leading candidates to succeed McCarthy as speaker are Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jordan himself. However, neither of them has secured enough support from their colleagues to win the speakership.

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