Defiant McCarthy pushes ahead with speaker bid despite disarray among House Republicans

Speaker vote — 01/03/2023 Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Defiant McCarthy pushes ahead with speaker bid despite disarray among House Republicans

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Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted he has a path to become speaker and won’t drop out of the race despite a group of hard-line Republicans digging their heels in to oppose his candidacy.

McCarthy failed to get the 218 votes needed on the House floor on Tuesday to win the gavel, as 19 and then 20 Republicans lined up against him on three successive ballots.


With Republicans controlling a narrow majority in the House, the impasse was a dramatic display of how a small group of disaffected conservatives could derail McCarthy’s long-held ambitions.

As the race heads into Day Two, with the House agreeing to adjourn until noon Wednesday, McCarthy’s detractors say his fate is already sealed and he should bow out of the race.

Yet McCarthy is projecting confidence in the face of daunting math. The lower chamber’s 212 Democrats stood united in their support for incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) on Tuesday, while McCarthy placed second with 202 votes.

To become speaker, the Republican would need to flip the votes of at least 11 GOP holdouts and convince the remainder to vote “present,” lowering the threshold needed to win a majority.

McCarthy raised this scenario in speaking with reporters Tuesday night. “Democrats have 212 votes, you get 213 votes, and the others don’t say another name, that’s how you can win,” he said.

McCarthy has been unable to break the logjam, however, after months spent negotiating with his detractors. Despite him making major concessions to the Republican hard-liners, including a rule change that would make it easier to oust the sitting speaker, conservatives say he has not gone far enough to meet their demands.

“I’m not sure there is a way out, quite honestly,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told the Hill Tuesday night. Perry joined members of his caucus in backing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Tuesday.

McCarthy’s allies have dismissed the notion that he was rattled coming out of the votes. “I have not seen him dejected,” McCarthy ally Bruce Westerman (R-AR) told reporters after meeting with him, saying he was “relaxing and visiting with friends.”

It’s an air of calm McCarthy himself projected in telling reporters that Republicans need to move past the conflict and unite against the Biden administration.

“The sooner we all come together, just keep a calm head — I know you guys get excited,” he said Tuesday night. “I don’t think if you watch me that I get excited — do I want to go through all this? No. But I think at the end of the day, it’s better to go through this now so we can be successful for this term and keep our promise to the American people.”

A major question for Republicans is how long McCarthy’s allies will hold out in the face of resistance from the Freedom Caucus. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who supported McCarthy on the first two ballots, argued “these continuous votes aren’t working for anyone” and voted for Jordan in the third round.

Jordan, who is slated to chair the Judiciary Committee this term, has repeatedly stated he does not want to be the speaker and nominated McCarthy for the job on the second ballot.

Wednesday’s votes will be a test of whether the ground continues to shift underneath McCarthy’s feet or whether he can turn the tide.

Should McCarthy’s bid fail, incoming Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), a staunch ally, is the most obvious Republican alternative. But with little ideological difference between him and McCarthy, it’s not clear conservatives would back him.

Jeffries, speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, deflected on whether Democrats would be willing to work with centrist Republicans to pick a “unity candidate” but said Democrats “haven’t had any outreach” from Republicans.


Retired Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who has been floated informally as a possible consensus candidate, told the Detroit News he would be willing to come back as House speaker.

“I would need Democrats,” he said Wednesday. “I could get a significant number of Republicans.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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