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Ahead of midterms, the GOP's extreme wing in the House worries Republicans

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Up to now, Republicans have seemed to be in a strong position to win back control of the House of Representatives next year. They are united in their drive to defeat President Biden's agenda. But in recent weeks, some in the right wing of the party have openly attacked their colleagues. NPR's Deirdre Walsh reports on the fractures.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: At a time when House Republicans should be on the same page about their midterm message, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted that out-of-line rhetoric from his own members is a distraction.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: It's things we would not want to deal with. It is things that the American people want to focus on - stopping inflation, gas prices and others. And anything that deviates from that causes problems.

WALSH: McCarthy was forced to intervene when Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert made Islamophobic comments about Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, who's Muslim. Separately, Boebert disparaged some in her own party, labeling them RINOs - Republican in name only - for helping to get a deal through that avoided a default on the nation's credit limit.

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LAUREN BOEBERT: Many RINOs run as conservatives and legislate like Pelosi. Let me tell you, the American people will remember this.

WALSH: McCarthy is taking note since he's regularly tripped up by some members from his far-right wing either throwing out racist rhetoric or misinformation about Democrats or publicly questioning his leadership or loyalty to former President Trump. Any move to discipline them could mean he loses their votes to be elected speaker if the GOP does win enough seats in next year's midterms.

South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace was attacked by fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who said she wasn't a true conservative after Mace took issue with Boebert's rhetoric. Greene even threatened to back a primary challenge in her race. But Mace says voters in her district want lawmakers who work across the aisle.

NANCY MACE: When we're unified in this country, when we work across the aisle, truly together in a bipartisan way, we're stronger on the world stage, and the world is safer for it. And that's really where all of our focus should be going into next year, and that's where my focus will be, too.

WALSH: And she warns extreme rhetoric can turn off the voters they need to win over.

MACE: We can only win if we look at how we communicate with moderates and independents across the board going into next year.

WALSH: Behind the scenes, McCarthy sent a message to the entire conference - stop sniping at each other.

DON BACON: Teams don't win when they're fighting each other, and some people need to know there's consequences.

WALSH: That's Nebraska Republican Don Bacon. He thinks his party can win 30 to 50 seats next fall - dozens more than they need to regain control of the House - but only if they get past the internal feuds and focus on the GOP agenda.

McCarthy created task forces to develop policy plans for what Republicans could do if they're in charge.

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MCCARTHY: We will tackle inflation, we will secure our border, we will bring gasoline prices down and we'll focus on the economy.

WALSH: Bacon outperformed Trump in his Nebraska district in 2020, and he thinks the party doesn't have to be defined entirely by him.

BACON: I don't think we should be the Trumpophobe (ph) party or the Trumpophile (ph) party.

WALSH: He says he wants the party to get away from tagging someone who's totally in line with the former president or totally against.

BACON: He did well on working on the border. He did well with USMCA, right? I mean, there's things that we can say we agree, but we can also say we don't agree with the name-calling.

WALSH: With polls consistently showing President Biden at his lowest approval rating since taking office, Republicans hope they can spend more time hammering on the issues instead of each other.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.