President Donald Trump wanted to endorse House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to succeed outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan but is being advised not to back a candidate in the race, two White House officials and a source close to the administration tell ABC News.
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Vice President Mike Pence, and White House advisors counselor Kellyanne Conway, director of legislative affairs Marc Short as well as a number of lawmakers have all cautioned Trump against wading into the GOP succession fight that could play out in the months leading up to the congressional midterm elections, according to the sources.
A source close to the White House said Trump’s advisors are concerned that the endorsement could complicate the contest, and Trump’s future relationship with the next GOP leader should his preferred candidate lose or decide not to run.
“They don’t want him to end up with another black eye,” the source said. “They don’t want [Trump] to get involved. It’s another fight they don’t need.”
Last week at a dinner at the White House with GOP leadership the president approached McCarthy and asked him directly if he wanted to be the next speaker of the House, according to one source familiar with the conversation. This source said McCarthy left the dinner feeling he had the support of the president should he decide to run.
Aides to McCarthy declined to comment on the exchange, or the possibility of an endorsement from Trump.
“There’s no one we get along with better than Kevin. He has a unique special relationship with the President,” Short, the White House legislative affairs director, told ABC News Tuesday. “But we’re not getting involved in the speaker’s race at this time.” It’s unclear how influential Trump’s endorsement would be in a congressional leadership race on Capitol Hill.
“He may have a preference who he would like to work with,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pennsylvania. “But the decision will be made internally by the members.”
McCarthy is the favorite to lead the House GOP conference and was endorsed by Ryan in an interview with NBC News last week.
“We all think Kevin is the right person,” he said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, also came out in support of McCarthy Friday, after previously signaling his interest in the speakership.
The Louisiana Republican, who survived a shooting at a congressional baseball practice last June, has been urged to consider a bid by colleagues, and is quietly positioning himself to run for the top job should McCarthy struggle to lock up the requisite support.
McCarthy previously ran for speaker in 2015, but was not able to clinch the 218 votes of the full House needed to secure the speaker’s gavel, which paved the way for Ryan to be drafted into the race and eventually succeed former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, has said he is also being urged to consider a bid. While it's unlikely Jordan can muster the votes to win the gavel, his possible candidacy is a signal that McCarthy could face some resistance in an official race without making concessions to conservatives.
Trump is on good terms with both McCarthy and Scalise, but is seen as closer to the California Republican, who was an early supporter during the presidential race. Trump has frequently referred to the majority leader as “my Kevin.”
McCarthy recently attended a private dinner hosted by a pro-Trump Super PAC, and has worked closely with the White House on a package of proposed spending cuts Republicans hope to consider before the midterm elections.
So far, Trump has not publicly weighed in on the leadership contest. After Ryan’s surprise retirement announcement, Trump hosted GOP leaders, including Ryan and McCarthy – and, after a late invite, Scalise – at the White House for dinner last week.
Ryan has repeatedly insisted that he plans to finish his term, dismissing criticism that he will be a lame-duck speaker and speculation that he could leave Capitol Hill before November. “I intend to run through the tape, to finish the year,” he told reporters last week at a news conference.