WASHINGTON — Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., doesn't care that former President Donald Trump backs Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House.
"Endorsements don't matter to me," said Norman, one of 20 Republican holdouts who have blocked McCarthy, R-Calif., from winning the majority he needs on a series of deadlocked votes for House speaker. "This is our fight here."
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., another anti-McCarthy voter, took umbrage at Trump calling recalcitrants on behalf of the beleaguered House GOP leader.
"Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us — even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off," Boebert said on the House floor Wednesday. "I think it actually needs to be reversed; the president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw."
McCarthy has given no indication that he plans to do that. But it was clear Wednesday — from House floor votes and interviews with Republican members — that Trump had failed to swing votes to McCarthy through either his behind-the-scenes calls to lawmakers or his big public endorsement in a Wednesday morning post to the Truth Social media platform.
“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” Trump wrote. “REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT.”
But in new rounds of votes Wednesday afternoon, Republicans remained deadlocked in essentially the same position as when they adjourned Tuesday — prior to Trump's involvement — following three failed attempts to elect a speaker.
Shortly after Trump's post, the Conservative Action Project, a group of activists and organizations with strong ties to Trump, rolled out a counterweight by calling on Republicans to reject McCarthy and lauding the rebel lawmakers.
"These members represents the millions of voters across the country who are disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington," wrote the group, which includes Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. "We stand behind them and beside them in their courageous efforts to find a Speaker of the House who will represent the interests of conservatives. We encourage more conservative members to join their ranks."
Inertia in the House spoke to the limits of Trump's power on a matter that many House Republicans see as an internal dispute.
"I think that President Trump has great influence in the Republican Party, especially among the 20 rebels — they all are Trump supporters," said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who backs McCarthy but is beginning to consider alternatives. "But I don't think when you have eyes on an institution for years and you've made up your mind, I don't think President Trump or anyone else is going" to change it.
American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, mocked Trump Wednesday for falling short with his endorsement, comparing it to the losses Trump-backed GOP candidates suffered in key midterm election races in November.
“Kevin McCarthy is finding out in real time that Trump’s endorsement is about as worthless as the former president’s NFT collection,” spokesman Drew Godinich said. “We can now add Kevin to the long list of MAGA Republicans Trump failed to get across the finish line.”
Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Pa., another McCarthy backer said that the rebel lawmakers should listen to Trump because he has been supportive of them and their goals.
"Maybe they should think about supporting him and his wisdom that we need to get back to the people's business and stop embarrassing ourselves and elect a speaker," he said.
Like Buck, Meuser said he is getting a lot of calls from constituents about the speaker race and there is some division within the ranks of GOP voters about the best path forward.
"They care about it," Meuser added.
Several lawmakers acknowledged that Trump's pro-McCarthy message walked a fine line, encouraging support for the GOP leader without ripping the rebels by name. While Trump has shown little reluctance to lash adversaries publicly, he can't afford to alienate the rebels — his friends in most circumstances — as he seeks the GOP nomination for president in 2024.
A Trump spokesman did not return a text message seeking comment on whether Trump has exerted negative pressure on the anti-McCarthy lawmakers or threatened to do so.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., praised Trump's advocacy for McCarthy and said it's unlikely that the former president would play a heavier hand with his longtime allies in the rebel group.
"I don't think he would," Smith said.
Norman said he and Trump simply don't see eye to eye on the speaker vote.
"I appreciate what he did for the country," Norman said. "I just disagree with him."
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