House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team are quietly working to prop up some of the GOP incumbents targeted by former President Donald Trump, putting the California Republican directly in the crosshairs of the right as he seeks to win back the majority.
Half of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection – 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 – participate in a joint fundraising committee with McCarthy and his leadership PAC, which has raised roughly $100,000 for each of the five campaigns in the first half of the year.
The committee – known as Take Back the House 2022 – has not raised money 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, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. However, McCarthy’s leadership group, Majority Committee PAC, donated $10,000 to Gonzalez’s campaign at the end of March.
While the National Republican Congressional Committee benefits from that joint fundraising committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm has a long-standing policy of officially staying neutral in primaries.
But the committee does provide other resources that help dues-paying incumbents, while committee Chairman Tom Emmer was a special guest at a Herrera Beutler fundraiser last month in Washington state, according to a source with knowledge of the event.
In particular, McCarthy and his confidants have made the case to Trump and his advisers to stay 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 matter.
The GOP leadership’s effort to aid the campaigns of these embattled Republicans has put them at odds with Trump while rankling 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.”
Herrera Beutler was almost hauled in as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial after she publicly divulged details about McCarthy and Trump’s phone call on January 6.
When Kent was asked whether he would support McCarthy for speaker one day if he’s elected to Congress, Kent replied: “Absolutely not.”
His comments underscore the kinds of headaches facing McCarthy. Trump’s meddling in GOP primaries – especially in key swing districts – is threatening to complicate the House GOP’s path back to the majority. The California Republican finds himself caught between a Trump-loyal right flank whom he needs to be speaker one day and Republican incumbents whom he has vowed to protect.
Some of those sitting lawmakers, such as Herrera Beutler and Upton, are crucial in the quest to win back the House, while others, such as Valadao and Katko, are also longtime allies of McCarthy.
Upton, who represents a swing district, hasn’t decided whether he will run for a 19th term, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. And Republicans fear that Upton’s Trump-supported primary foe, state Rep. Steve Carra, would put the seat at risk 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.”
But even as top House Republicans have publicly cautioned Trump against wading into primaries, there are zero signs that GOP leaders are trying to put any distance between the party and the former President. In fact, Emmer revealed this week that Trump will headline a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser in Tampa this fall, according to a source familiar with the plans.
In an interview earlier this summer, Emmer said he wanted to see GOP incumbents 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 whether the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump can overcome his revenge campaign remains to be seen.
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 district that is both suburban and rural. And earlier this year, Trump endorsed his former aide, Max Miller, who is vying to take on Gonzalez.
McCarthy, however, has no plans to join in on Trump’s retribution tour, and has promised to assist the reelection campaigns of incumbents. It would be extremely rare to see a leader endorse a primary challenger to a sitting member of their own party. And earlier this year, Emmer phoned some of the Republicans who had voted to impeach Trump and told them the party would have their backs, according to two sources familiar with the conversations.
“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, a close ally of McCarthy’s and a fellow Californian.
Chris Mathys, a Republican candidate running against Valadao, said he’s written to Trump and been in touch with Trump aides and advisers as he courts the former President’s endorsement, saying it would be “a big honor” and amount to “tremendous support for our campaign.” But he has not yet spoken to Trump himself.
Mathys, who says Trump is not responsible for the January 6 attack, added this when asked if he believes Joe Biden was legitimately elected as President: “I personally think no.”
And when asked about Valadao, Mathys said: “People are livid – just very upset about Mr. Valadao’s impeachment vote. They consider it a betrayal.”
Valadao, who called Trump’s “inciting rhetoric” on January 6 “un-American, abhorrent, and absolutely an impeachable offense,” declined to comment. But earlier this summer, he told CNN that it was “hard to say” what kind of impact his vote would have on his reelection campaign.
“They’ve all been very, very supportive,” Valadao added when asked about the backing he’s getting from GOP leaders in his reelection bid.
Republicans say they hope Trump trains his focus away from Valadao and Katko, recognizing that those two in particular could have a difficult time getting reelected if they’re faced with an onslaught from the former President.
“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 hasn’t lifted a finger to help Cheney or Kinzinger, the most outspoken Trump critics in the Republican conference, who both agreed to serve on the select committee investigating January 6. There’s also no risk of Cheney’s seat falling into Democratic hands, while Kinzinger could be redistricted out.
Earlier this year, McCarthy did move to boot Cheney from his leadership team for repeatedly calling out Trump’s lies about the election. But some on the right are pushing him to go even further. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus sent a letter to McCarthy last week calling on him to remove Cheney and Kinzinger from the GOP conference entirely.
And Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who is under federal investigation for potential sex and human trafficking crimes, has lit into McCarthy for not taking a harder line.
“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.