House Republicans were already divided over the candidates for speaker, majority leader and whip. Now they're finding themselves split over when to hold elections.
Over the weekend, the expectation that members would vote on Thursday for a new leadership slate was turned upside down, as some lawmakers amped up lobbying efforts to postpone votes for majority leader and whip.
Members were also whispering about the ramifications of letting almost a month go by between nominating a new speaker candidate and holding the decisive roll call vote on the House floor.
On Sunday, Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and James B. Renacci, R-Ohio, were collecting signatures for a letter to GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers asking for two things: Another special members' meeting to discuss changing some of the conference rules, and a delay in leadership elections scheduled for Oct. 8 except for the nominating vote for resigning Speaker John A. Boehner's successor.
"The only election that is relevant on October 8th would only be an election for the Conference nominee for the Office of the Speaker, since that is the only vacancy that exists," Mulvaney and Renacci wrote.
A Renacci spokeswoman told CQ Roll Call that, as of late afternoon Sunday, the two lawmakers had received commitments from at least 19 co-signers, and the letter would be sent to McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., in the coming days.
The letter was also the topic of conversation Sunday evening, when some members and senior staff participated in a conference call hosted by Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., who is running for whip against Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
According to a source on the call, some members spoke up to urge colleagues not to sign on to the Mulvaney-Renacci letter. They argued the conference needed to pick its leadership team as soon as possible, to move past party infighting. Leaving the field open for even one more week — a recess week at that — could give even more new candidates time to enter the races and further fracture the conference.
Delays also create opportunities for existing candidates to shoot themselves in the foot, some members and aides contend.
That concern in particular applies to the race for speaker. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the favorite to win the nomination for the position inside the House Republican Conference. It's not entirely clear, however, whether he currently has, or will be able to secure, the necessary 218 votes to win the position in a full House floor vote.
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, officially put himself forward as a challenger to McCarthy on Sunday morning, telling Fox News that McCarthy has a "math problem." Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster is also running for speaker as a favorite of some members of the House Freedom Caucus who want a leader who will adhere to "process" and make decisions collaboratively.
Letting members go home for Columbus Day recess in between nominating McCarthy and voting for him on the House floor would be the perfect opportunity for the dynamics on the ground to change, especially if a fourth candidate should materialize, per Kansas GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp's warning last week.
It's not clear whether Boehner would have to step down sooner than he had intended — he said he will leave at the end of the month — in order to facilitate a faster election to succeed him.
Elsewhere, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., this weekend was still pushing for a conference vote before Thursday's elections that would force McCarthy to vacate his majority leader position in order to run for speaker — and, in turn, for Steve Scalise, R-La., to vacate his whip position in order to run for majority leader. A congressional aide said Sunday evening it was still unknown whether Westmoreland's proposed rule change would also apply to Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., who is running against Scalise for majority leader.
In the midst of all these variables, McHenry told supporters on the conference call he had secured the votes to win the whip race and his base of support is continuing to grow, according to a source in McHenry's camp.
A source close to Sessions' operation, however, said it was exactly all these moving parts that made it impossible for McHenry to make such a claim.
"It seems presumptuous to think the race is over with all the questions surrounding the elections," the source connected with Sessions' whip team told CQ Roll Call. "We're in this position as a conference because a critical mass of Republicans believe something needs to change. The idea that a majority of our conference thinks nothing should change and that electing the current leadership team to move up one position is not consistent with the pulse of our conference."
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.