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‘It’s Not a Threat. It’s Being on the Damn Team.’
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‘It’s Not a Threat. It’s Being on the Damn Team.’

Republican infighting over Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid shows no signs of stopping.

Rep. Don Bacon (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Moderate GOP Rep. Don Bacon has a warning for the handful of Republicans threatening to derail House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid: Vote for McCarthy, or he’ll shore up votes from moderate Democrats to elect a centrist instead. 

But at least one member of the House Freedom Caucus is already calling what he thinks is Bacon’s bluff. “That’s a deliberate, orchestrated disinformation campaign. I don’t think there’s any truth and veracity to that whatsoever,” Rep. Bob Good, one of a handful of potential no-votes on McCarthy, told The Dispatch Wednesday. “I’d like to know what Republicans will vote with what Democrats first.”

The comments show just how fractious the House GOP conference is heading into the January 3 speakership vote.

Bacon, co-chair of the centrist GOP Main Street Caucus and member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, says conversations are underway with “several” members of the New Democrat Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus who have “discussed a willingness to work together on this” should the speakership vote go multiple rounds.

The Dispatch’s Uphill newsletter reported earlier this month that the prospect of Democrats aligning with Republicans to elect an alternative to McCarthy is unlikely. In such a polarized atmosphere, bucking the party line can come at a huge cost. For example, any centrist Democrat who voted for a Republican speaker—even a middle-of-the-road “Fred Upton type” Bacon has previously floated—would immediately risk being primaried next cycle. 

Yet multiple members confirmed in interviews this week that Bacon’s plan is making the rounds. “I have heard lots of members talk about this as a possibility,” said moderate GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson, who serves as Problem Solvers Caucus whip. 

He’s not involved in any of the discussions, but he expects McCarthy will win the votes. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” he said. “And I know that with Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, all at different times, they had close votes leading up to the speaker vote and some suggestions that maybe they wouldn’t get there. They all got there.”

More Freedom Caucus members signal each day they could hop aboard the no-vote train and derail McCarthy’s path to 218—the magic number he needs to become speaker (though any “present” vote or absences on January 3 could lower that threshold). But as of this week, the only confirmed challenger to McCarthy is Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, a member of the Freedom Caucus who lacks any real consensus appeal.

Still, Good maintains that reporters should expect McCarthy’s chances to dwindle even more in the coming days even if there’s no obvious alternative. “There are more people who have either told us that they are a no-vote, or who I know have told the leader himself that they are a no vote who are not being reported among those who have declared publicly,” Good said Wednesday.

Seven additional Freedom Caucus members wrote a letter to colleagues last week threatening to vote against any speaker who fails to meet their list of demands, chief among them being the “Motion to Vacate the Chair.” If reinstated, that rule would guarantee any individual member the ability to force a vote on removing the speaker—which is what led to former Speaker John Boehner’s resignation from the position in 2015. 

The letter follows a Republican conference vote last month to bring such a motion to the floor only if more than half of the conference is on board. That did little to appease members of the Freedom Caucus, many of whom are still demanding that the simple-majority threshold should be lowered—though some are more open to compromise than others, according to reporting in Politico

In a boon for McCarthy—who said in a recent interview with Newsmax that he opposes guaranteeing individual members that power—the 50-person centrist Republican Governance Group will reportedly oppose any rules package that includes the lower threshold version of the motion to vacate the chair, the Washington Post reported

Meanwhile, Bacon insists he’s preparing for a showdown with the anti-McCarthy wing of his own party. “At some point you work as part of the team or we have to find another way to put a team together,” he said. He’s not taken so-called “unity speaker” negotiations further because he wants moderates to coalesce around McCarthy, he says. But if Freedom Caucus members vote against McCarthy, he’ll act.

“It’s not a threat. It’s being on the damn team,” Bacon said. “We’re pissed about it and we’re not gonna let five or six guys hold us hostage.”

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.