Down to the wire: McCarthy's bid for House Speaker faces stubborn GOP opposition

While Scalise is backing McCarthy, he has not declined to seek the office should the California lawmaker fail.

Updated: January 3, 2023 - 10:56am

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As the House of Representatives plans to vote Tuesday for its next Speaker, current House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is desperately scrambling to secure enough support within his own party to claim the gavel.

A prospective speaker needs a minimum of 218 supportive lawmakers to hold the post. After the November midterm elections, Republicans claimed a total of 222 seats, leaving any Republican leader with little room to maneuver. 

Five House Republicans have committed to opposing McCarthy's leadership, including Reps. Matt Gaetza, Fla.; Andy Biggs, Ariz.; Bob Good, Va.; Ralph Norman, S.C., and Matt Rosendale, Mont.

Their stalwart opposition leaves McCarthy one vote shy of the gavel, assuming he could wrangle the support of every other House Republican, and could force him to turn to Democrats for support, a move his has remained reluctant to pursue.

Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, moreover, has cast some doubt on the prospect of Democrats intervening in the speaker vote, saying in December that his caucus would "see what happens," according to Yahoo News.

The support of other Republicans, however, is far from a given as a group of nine other House Republicans on Sunday night sent a letter to the California Republican announcing their intent to oppose his leadership as well. 

Reps. Scott Perry, Penn.; Paul Gosar, Ariz.; Chip Roy, Texas; Dan Bishop, N.C.; Andy Harris, Md.; and Andrew Clyde, Ga.; as well as Rep.-elects Andy Nogales, Tenn.; Anna Paulina Luna, Fla; and Eli Crane, Ariz.; have contended that a McCarthy speakership would not result in meaningful change in the House.

"For someone with a 14-year presence in senior House Republican leadership, Mr. McCarthy bears squarely the burden to correct the dysfunction he now explicitly admits across that long tenure," the lawmakers wrote in apparent response to McCarthy's New Year's Eve letter maligning the dysfunction in the lower chamber.

The California Republican has already made several concessions which conservative lawmakers had demanded, including agreeing to reinstate the Holman rule, that would allow amendments to appropriations bills that could reduce or eliminate specific federal positions or their salaries.

He has further agreed to allow any five Republican lawmakers initiate a no-confidence vote in the Speaker, according to Fox News, a move that could put his leadership under serious and frequent challenge. 

Some lawmakers have begun searching for alternative candidates, with both Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and outgoing New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin garnering attention. The Speaker does not technically need to be a sitting member of Congress.

While Scalise is backing McCarthy, he has not declined to seek the office should the California lawmaker fail.

Anti-McCarthy lawmakers, including Biggs, who unsuccessfully challenged him for leadership after the midterm elections, remain confident that he will not earn the support of 218 lawmakers without securing Democratic votes, which he contended would ultimately cost him Republican support in turn.

"That would that push people off to say, 'look, we don't want someone who's a compromised speaker. We want someone who's going to be a Republican speaker,'" he said on the Friday edition of "Just the News, No Noise."

The vote is scheduled for Tuesday.