Updated: 7:48 p.m. | Majority Whip Steve Scalise is telling members he has the race to be majority leader locked up — as long as there is a race to be majority leader.
Scalise held a roughly 15-minute conference call with committed supporters Sunday night to tell them he is well beyond having a majority of the conference behind him.
A source with knowledge of the whip operation told CQ Roll Call on Sunday the Louisiana Republican has more than 140 committed votes, while — by Scalise's count — his only announced opponent, Budget Chairman Tom Price, has just over 50 members firmly supporting him. Scalise's operation estimates there are roughly 50 members still undecided.
"The winning number is 124," the source told CQ Roll Call, "and Scalise is well past it. He has an opportunity to absolutely run away with this." Of course, Scalise's whip counts are based on just him and Price being in the race. And with rumors that Speaker John A. Boehner could delay the prospective down-ballot races until Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wins behind closed doors in conference — and is confirmed on the floor — Scalise's supposedly solid support might not matter.
Either way, Price's office contested Scalise's whip count on Sunday night. "Their numbers are absurd," a spokesman for Price told CQ Roll Call. "I would encourage whoever gave you that number to go back and check their math."
The spokesman continued that Republicans are currently operating under the current rules where, "win, lose or draw," Scalise is going to be in leadership. "So no one has any interest in going overtly public against a member of leadership," the aide said.
Complicating the math even further is the speaker race. Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced his run for the top spot on Sunday, and while sources familiar with McCarthy's operation have expressed continued confidence that he is a lock for speaker, defections by conservatives could block McCarthy's ascent during a floor vote.
That possibility may lead to Boehner delaying the majority leader race, but, as long as McCarthy does move up, Scalise apparently feels confident.
On the conference call Sunday evening, Scalise told members and staff he wasn't taking for granted that he had the contest locked up, according to a source on the call.
Scalise mentioned there was discussion of delaying elections for majority leader and whip, but he said the ultimate decision was out of his control. The No. 3 Republican did say he thought members didn't want a long, drawn-out leadership election, according to the source, and two members on the call expressed a preference for moving forward with the votes set for Thursday.
Emma Dumain contributed to this report.
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