California's McCarthy expected to seek speaker position if Republicans keep the House

Trump to huddle with super PAC backers over dinner

Ryan announced on Wednesday that he would not be seeking reelection come November, but maintained that he would stay in the House through the midterm elections. Disconcertingly for the GOP, Trump's unpopularity and early Democratic momentum leave it unclear whether Ryan's replacement will be speaker or minority leader. It was unclear what if any efforts were quietly underway to deny that support to McCarthy, but Scalise's remarks clearly left himself as the alternative.

Scalise said the promises on which the GOP is running will be irrelevant if there is a continued presence of Rep. Nancy Pelosi in House leadership. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the current chairman, said the group hasn't decided who to back this time.

The Freedom Caucus chair has sworn that he has no interest in a leadership position, but so did Paul Ryan during the last go-round, before McCarthy's unexpected withdrawal plunged the race into turmoil.

But Ryan is the 24th House Republican to retire this term, a record. If weird stuff happens and neither McCarthy nor Scalise can cobble together a sufficiently sizeable coalition of supporters, a prominent hard-line conservative like Meadows could pitch themselves to the caucus as particularly well-equipped to work with President Trump, whose relationship with Ryan could charitably be described as "strained".

Lawmakers and GOP donors want a leader who can raise money, and there McCarthy has an advantage. And both have resume problems that fellow Republicans insisted they'd overcome. Even if McCarthy wins that GOP vote over Scalise, or any other candidates, some Republican lawmakers say he could still face difficulty in winning a public vote of the entire House of Representatives for the speaker's job.

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"Scalise has been struggling with an episode that almost ended his ascent within the leadership: In 2002, while serving as a state lawmaker, he attended a meeting of a white supremacist group in Louisiana and faced a firestorm when the episode was publicized in 2014".

Scalise previously told Politico he's interested in being speaker someday, and he is broadly popular among his colleagues. That could be intensified after November, when Republicans are expected to lose seats and many of those departing will be moderates.

McCarthy has worked to improve his relationship with conservatives, including trying to craft legislation cutting spending from the government budget enacted recently.

Either man could cut a deal with the House Freedom Caucus.

McCarthy's biggest challenge is the same one that bedeviled Paul Ryan: appeasing the Freedom Caucus wingnuts, who have long viewed him with suspicion as insufficiently conservative for their tastes. Scalise didn't answer directly when asked if he's now supporting McCarthy. McCarthy subsequently withdrew his bid, calling for a candidate that could get the support of all Republicans.

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