RNC Chair Michael Whatley urges party unity amid GOP turmoil in the House

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Republican National Committee Chair Michael Whatley urged party unity when asked about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s threat to force a vote to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson this week, months before House Republicans defend their slim majority in the November elections.

“We need to flip the Senate, and we need to expand our majority in the House. We’re not going to do that if we’re not unified,” Whatley said in an exclusive interview when asked for his message to Republicans backing Johnson’s ouster.

We need to make sure that all of the Republicans understand the gravity of this election cycle, and they do, and we need to make sure that we are on the same page as we’re moving forward,” he continued.

According to audio of a private donor luncheon at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s estate in Florida, obtained by NBC News, Trump celebrated RNC leadership and echoed the call for unity — inviting Johnson to join him onstage.

“We’ve got to stick together. It’s so important,” Trump said.

Whatley pleaded for unity just days before Johnson’s grip on his chamber faces a key test.

Greene, R-Ga., said last week that she will call a motion to vacate for Johnson, R-La., forcing members of both parties to consider whether they will vote to save his speakership.

Democrats have already said they will oppose Greene’s motion, effectively defending Johnson’s speakership, a role he took on after Kevin McCarthy of California was booted in October.

Whatley, Trump’s hand-picked choice to lead the RNC, was elected as the committee’s chair in March to succeed Ronna McDaniel. Just months into his position, he faces the major task of shaping the party organization in the image of Trump, who chose him for the position after publicly casting doubt on McDaniel’s ability to lead the party apparatus.

McDaniel had agreed to resign after facing criticism from fellow Republicans about the party’s underperformance in recent elections. In February, Trump endorsed Whatley, previously the North Carolina Republican Party chairman, in addition to his daughter-in-law Lara Trump for co-chair.

Weeks into Whatley’s leadership, the RNC faced media reports alleging that job applicants were asked in interviews whether the 2020 election was stolen — a false claim that Trump and some of his supporters have long promoted.

“The only litmus test that I have is whether or not you support our Republican candidates and whether you’re willing to work 24/7 from now through Nov. 5 to make sure that we win,” Whatley said.

When pressed on the issue, Whatley said he wants to hire people “who support him and who support his agenda,” referring to Trump.

Whatley also discussed Trump’s recent comments in support of absentee and early voting, which some saw as a departure from his previous criticism of voting by mail.

Trump said in a post to Truth Social last month, in all capitalized letters, “Absentee voting, early voting, and Election Day voting are all good options.”

Trump frequently and forcefully railed against mail-in voting for years, arguing without evidence that it is “totally corrupt.”

Whatley said Trump is “very consistent in saying that ultimately, you know, he would like to see some changes nationally and a state-by-state basis.”

“But we are going to win by the rules of the road that we have in place today, and we need to compete,” Whatley added.

As NBC News has reported, Republican officials pushing voters to accept voting by mail and early voting have run into resistance from some of Trump’s most fervent supporters.

While the party is encouraging its supporters to vote by mail, it’s also pursuing lawsuits to make it more difficult for those votes to count. The RNC is engaged in 82 lawsuits in 25 states focusing on mail-in ballot deadlines, ballot drop boxes and purges of voter rolls.

The RNC has succeeded on some fronts — it notched a win in battleground Pennsylvania, where the party and other Republican groups challenged efforts to count absentee ballots missing a date. But tactics in other lawsuits, such as recent ones filed in Nevada about mail-in voting and purging voter rolls — have already faced pushback from judges.

When pressed on whether these lawsuits are paving the way for Trump to claim the 2024 election was stolen in the event he loses to President Joe Biden for a second time, Whatley said that is “absolutely not” the RNC’s goal.

“This is this is a system designed to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” said Whatley. “These are things that are strongly supported by a vast majority of the American people. That has nothing to do with voter suppression.”

After a rally in Wisconsin last week, Trump gave an interview to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which he would not commit to accept the election results if he loses.

“If everything’s honest, I’d gladly accept the results,” Trump told the Sentinel. “If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.”

“But if everything’s honest, which we anticipate it will be — a lot of changes have been made over the last few years — but if everything’s honest, I will absolutely accept the results,” he said.

Dasha Burns and Abigail Brooks reported from Palm Beach, Florida, and Megan Lebowitz from Washington, D.C.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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