CNN is reporting that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team are quietly working to support some of the Republican incumbents targeted by former President Donald Trump, putting the California Republican squarely in the crosshairs of the right as he seeks to retake the majority.
Reps. David Valadao of California, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, John Katko of New York, and Fred Upton and Peter Meijer, both of Michigan, are members of a joint fundraising committee with McCarthy and his leadership PAC, which has raised roughly $100,000 for each of the five camps.
According to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, the Take Back the House 2022 committee has not raised funds for the other five lawmakers: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Dan Newhouse of Washington state, and Tom Rice of South Carolina. McCarthy’s leadership organization, Majority Committee PAC, did, however, donate $10,000 to Gonzalez’s campaign at the end of March.
While the National Republican Congressional Committee benefits from the joint fundraising committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm has long maintained an official neutrality in primaries.
However, the committee does provide other resources to dues-paying incumbents, and committee Chairman Tom Emmer was a special guest at a Herrera Beutler fundraiser last month in Washington state, according to a source familiar with the event.
McCarthy and his confidants have specifically urged Trump and his advisers to remain neutral in the primaries for Katko and Valadao, two of the most vulnerable Republicans, but it’s unclear what the mercurial former President will do, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The GOP leadership’s efforts to help these embattled Republicans’ campaigns have put them at odds with Trump and irritated some conservatives.
“McCarthy is talking out of one side of his mouth, saying that he supports the MAGA movement, Trump and President Trump’s policies, but his money is supporting Jaime Herrera Beutler and four of the other impeachment voters,” Joe Kent, a Trump-backed primary challenger to Herrera Beutler, told CNN. “It’s just part of the GOP grift. So me and the rest of the base, we’ve kind of heard enough from them.”
After publicly disclosing details about McCarthy and Trump’s phone call on January 6, Herrera Beutler was almost called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial.
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When asked if he would support McCarthy for speaker if he were elected to Congress, Kent said, “Absolutely not.”
His remarks highlight the types of issues McCarthy is dealing with. Trump’s meddling in GOP primaries, particularly in key swing districts, threatens to complicate the House GOP’s path back to majority status. The California Republican is caught between a Trump-supporting right flank that he needs to become speaker one day and Republican incumbents that he has vowed to protect.
Some of those sitting lawmakers, such as Herrera Beutler and Upton, are critical to regaining control of the House, while others, such as Valadao and Katko, are longtime McCarthy allies.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Upton, who represents a swing district, has not decided whether to run for a 19th term. Republicans are concerned that Upton’s Trump-backed primary opponent, state Rep. Steve Carra, will put the seat in jeopardy if he wins the nomination.
“I don’t care about DC leaders … most of the Republicans in DC are RINOs who have no interest in actually putting America First,” Carra said in an email to CNN. “Kevin McCarthy has a choice to make. He can continue to back the Anti-Trump Fred Upton who voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump or he can join the America First movement and support Steve Carra, who now has the full and total endorsement of President Trump.”
Even though top House Republicans have publicly warned Trump against entering primaries, there are no signs that GOP leaders are attempting to distance the party from the former President. According to a source familiar with the plans, Emmer revealed this week that Trump will headline a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser in Tampa this fall.
Emmer stated earlier this summer that he wanted GOP incumbents to win their primaries.
“We don’t want the heavy hand of Washington stepping into the debate, the discussion, that constituents in a certain district are having over the representation,” Emmer told CNN. “That being said, I absolutely want to see them win.”
But it remains to be seen whether the ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will be able to overcome his vengeance campaign.
So far, Trump has backed primary challengers to Cheney, his top foe who serves on the January 6 select committee; Upton, a veteran member of the House Republican conference and former chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee; and Herrera Beutler, who represents an increasingly purple suburban and rural district. Earlier this year, Trump endorsed Max Miller, a former aide who is running to replace Gonzalez.
McCarthy, on the other hand, has stated that he has no plans to join Trump’s retribution tour and has pledged to support incumbents’ reelection campaigns. It would be extremely unusual for a party leader to support a primary challenger to a sitting member of their own party. According to two sources familiar with the conversations, Emmer called some of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year and assured them that the party would support them.
“I look forward to working with each member of our conference in support of their re-election efforts,” McCarthy said in a statement earlier this year. “We will take back the House in November 2022.”
So far, Trump has not endorsed in the fight against Valadao, McCarthy’s close ally and fellow Californian.
Chris Mathys, a Republican candidate running against Valadao, said he’s written to Trump and spoken with Trump aides and advisers as he seeks Trump’s endorsement, calling it “a big honor” and “tremendous support for our campaign.” However, he has not yet spoken with Trump.
When asked if he believes Joe Biden was legitimately elected President, Mathys responded, “I personally think no.”
When asked about Valadao, Mathys responded: “People are enraged – simply enraged – by Mr. Valadao’s impeachment vote. They regard it as a betrayal.”
Valadao declined to comment after calling Trump’s “inciting rhetoric” on January 6 “un-American, abhorrent, and absolutely an impeachable offense.” However, he told CNN earlier this summer that it was “hard to say” what impact his vote would have on his reelection campaign.
“They’ve all been very, very supportive,” Valadao added when asked about GOP leaders’ support for his reelection bid.
Republicans say they hope Trump shifts his focus away from Valadao and Katko, recognizing that if they face an onslaught from the former President, they may struggle to be re-elected.
“It’ll create serious problems if he (goes after) Valadao and John Katko,” said one GOP operative. “So far, he hasn’t done that.”
Unsurprisingly, McCarthy has done nothing to assist Cheney or Kinzinger, the Republican conference’s most outspoken Trump critics, who both agreed to serve on the select committee investigating the events of January 6. There’s also no chance that Cheney’s seat will fall into Democratic hands, whereas Kinzinger could be redistricted.
McCarthy did move earlier this year to remove Cheney from his leadership team for repeatedly calling out Trump’s election-day lies. Some on the right, however, are pressuring him to go even further. Last week, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus wrote to McCarthy, urging him to remove Cheney and Kinzinger from the GOP conference entirely.
And Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for potential sex and human trafficking crimes, has chastised McCarthy for not taking a tougher stance.
“How can we trust Kevin McCarthy to go beyond talking tough to Nancy Pelosi when he won’t even stand up to Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger?” Gaetz said on his YouTube channel this week.