McCarthy allies tried to recruit the moderate Democrat in multiple phone calls over the weekend, five people familiar with the outreach told The Wall Street Journal. McCarthy could become the next speaker of the House if Republicans can secure at least 218 seats in the chamber and if he can fend off a potential bid for his leadership position.
The outcomes of over a dozen House races are still unknown. The GOP is favored to win a slight majority with 219 seats, according to NBC News’ Decision Desk.
Cuellar is a moderate Democrat from a district in southern Texas that runs along the U.S. border with Mexico. Cuellar’s district has been hit heavily with illegal immigration over the past two years, and the Texas congressman has been one of the most vocal critics of President Joe Biden from within the Democratic Party. Cuellar has made repeated appearances on Fox News to criticize Biden’s border policies.
A McCarthy spokesman told WSJ that the Republican leader did not request the calls.
“Anyone suggesting this is simply exercising in fan fiction,” McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar said. “Leader McCarthy is going to be elected speaker by the current and newly-elected members of the House Republican Conference. Our efforts are exclusively focused on bringing our conference together and saving the country.”
The results of the 2022 midterms, underwhelming to many Republicans, have led many in the House GOP caucus to question McCarthy’s leadership heading into the new Congress. The GOP leader is facing a potential challenge from his right from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
McCarthy oversaw a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on Monday. Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, reportedly told McCarthy that Republicans “got rolled” in midterms, according to The Daily Caller. The meeting overall reportedly featured mostly muted frustration with McCarthy, however, and nobody spoke in direct challenge to McCarthy for the potential speaker’s gavel.
Florida Rep. Greg Steube, also a member of the Freedom Caucus, reportedly noted the lack of opposition McCarthy faced at the meeting. “When you have such a slim majority, I think it’s gonna be difficult to find somebody else that could get to to 218,” he said, according to Bloomberg reporter Emily Wilkins.
Editor’s Note: A previous headline incorrectly stated that Kevin McCarthy attempted to recruit a Texas Democrat to join the Republican Party when, in fact, it was McCarthy’s allies.