Kevin McCarthy’s race for speaker risks turning House upside down on day one

In his quest to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy goes straight into history, potentially becoming the first candidate in 100 years not to win the job in a first-round vote.

The increasingly real prospect of a chaotic battle for the Speaker’s gavel on the first day of the new Congress on Jan. 3 is worrying House Republicans bracing themselves for the spectacle. They have met endlessly in private at the Capitol to resolve the standoff.

McCarthy holds a dangerously narrow 222-seat Republican majority in the 435-seat House of Representatives and faces a handful of defectors. He is working feverishly to reach the 218 votes threshold normally required to become a speaker.

“The fear is that if we stumble out of the gate,” said Rep. Jim Banksan Indiana Republican ally and McCarthy Republican ally, then the voters that sent the Republicans to Washington will “revolt and feel abandoned.”

Since the disputed 1923 election, no candidate for Speaker of the House has put himself under public scrutiny by calling a new session of Congress, only to plunge it into political chaos one vote at a time until a new Speaker is elected is. Back then, it took a grueling nine ballots to secure the gavel.


McCarthy, a Bakersfield, California Republican who was first elected in 2006 and with whom he remains allied donald trump, has signaled he is willing to walk as long as it takes in a word choice to secure the voice-over job he has wanted for years. The former president has endorsed McCarthy and is said to be making calls on McCarthy’s behalf. McCarthy gave no clue He would resign, as he did in 2015 when it was clear he didn’t have the support.

But McCarthy also concedes the holdouts won’t budge. “It’s all in jeopardy,” McCarthy said in an interview with the Conservative on Friday Hugh Hewitt.

The dilemma reflects not only McCarthy’s uncertain status among his peers, but also changing political norms in Congress, as party leaders who once wielded immense power — the names of Cannon, Rayburn, and now Pelosi adorn the boardrooms and office buildings of the House of Representatives — it dwindle see away in the 21st century.

Ordinary legislators have become political stars on their own terms, able to shape their brands on social media and raise their own money on campaigns. House members are less dependent than they once were on party leaders handing out favors in exchange for support.

The test for McCarthy as to his ability to shore up votes on Jan. 3 or the days that follow will be whether he emerges as a weakened speaker, forced to pay an enormous price for the gavel, or whether the potentially brutal power struggle emboldened his new leadership.


“Does he want to go down as the first speaker candidate in 100 years and essentially, you know, have to resign?” said Jeffrey A JenkinsProfessor at the University of Southern California and co-author of Fighting for the Speakership.

“But if he pulls that rabbit out of his hat, you know, maybe he actually has more of the right stuff.”

Republicans met privately for another long session last week as McCarthy’s critics, mostly a handful of conservative Freedom Caucus supporters, are calling for House Rule changes that would reduce the powers of the speaker’s office.

Freedom Caucus members and others want reassurance that they can help draft laws from the ground up and have the ability to change bills during plenary debates. They are calling for enforcement of the 72-hour rule that requires invoices to be presented for review before voting.

Outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosia California Democrat, and the last two Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, faced similar challenges, but they could rely on the currency of their position to hand out favors, negotiate deals, and otherwise convince opponents to keep them in line—for a time. Boehner and Ryan ended early retirement.

But the key demand from McCarthy’s opponents may be going too far: They want to reintroduce a House rule that would allow each individual lawmaker to table a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially allowing a vote on the floor to see the speaker to be kicked out of office.

The early leaders of the Freedom Caucus, below Mark Meadowsthe former North Carolina congressman turned Trump chief of staff used the little-used technique as a threat against Boehner and later Ryan.

It wasn’t until Pelosi grabbed the gavel for a second time in 2019 that House Democrats voted to scrap the rule and require a majority of the caucus to challenge the speaker by one vote.

representative Chip Roya Texas Republican said the 200-year-old rule was good enough for Thomas Jeffersonso it’s one he’d like to see in place.

“We are a long way from fixing this institution the way it needs to be fixed,” Roy told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.

It is unclear to McCarthy whether, even if he gives in to the various demands of the Conservatives, he will be enough to drop their opposition to his leadership.

Several House Republicans said they don’t think McCarthy will ever be able to get past the critics.

“I don’t think he’s going to get 218 votes,” said Rep. Bob Good, a Virginia Republican, among the holdouts. “And so I look forward to when that recognition comes and he resigns for the good of the country and for the good of Congress and we can consider other candidates.”

Opposition to McCarthy has spurred a counteroffensive from other groups of House Republicans, who have been vocal in their support of the GOP leader — and more concerned about the consequences if the start of the new Congress leads to an internal partisan struggle.

representative David Joycean Ohio Republican who heads the Republican Governance Group wore an “OK” button on his lapel — meaning “Just Kevin,” he explained.

Some have suggested that McCarthy’s opponents could simply vote “present,” lowering the threshold for achieving a majority — a tactic Pelosi and Boehner both used to win by fewer than 218 votes.

While some have suggested threatening the detractors with removal from their committee duties or other retaliation, Rep. Dusty Johnsona Republican from South Dakota and leader of another conservative faction in government, said, “Anyone who thinks that compliance evaders are being bullied doesn’t understand how this city works.”

Outgoing MP Fred Uptona Michigan Republican who remembered this then-Republican speaker New Gingrich of Georgia dropped out of the race in 1998 when he didn’t have the votes, McCarthy warned against giving in.

“My advice to Kevin is you have to go to the finish line,” Upton said. “You can’t fold the cards. You have to get these people to vote — and vote.”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press. Kevin McCarthy’s race for speaker risks turning House upside down on day one

Callan Tansill

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