Kevin McCarthy faces moment of truth in quest for speaker’s gavel

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, speaks during a GOP news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, November 17, 2021
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, speaks during a GOP news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, November 17, 2021 Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Kevin McCarthy faces moment of truth in quest for speaker’s gavel

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will face a pivotal moment in his political career on Tuesday, with members of the lower chamber slated to determine whether he will become the next speaker during a floor vote after his yearslong push to obtain the gavel.

McCarthy has seen a relatively swift rise through the leadership ranks since first joining them in 2009. But he is now facing obstacles similar to the ones he encountered in 2015, when he unexpectedly dropped out of the race to succeed then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) ahead of the conference’s internal leadership elections after roughly 40 conservatives threatened to withhold their votes.

Back then, conservative hard-liners, fresh off pushing Boehner to step down, took aim at McCarthy. They hit him for comments about the select committee on Benghazi, hinted at allegations of an affair with another member of Congress, which were vehemently denied by both lawmakers, and contended that he didn’t do enough to push back against the Obama administration’s agenda, vowing to vote for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) as an alternative on the floor. The conference ultimately rallied around then-ways and means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to serve as speaker, with McCarthy staying on as majority leader.

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McCarthy’s fundraising prowess and Ryan’s decision to endorse him as his successor, boxing out House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), were able to overcome a challenge from now-ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in the race to become minority leader in 2018.

But after Republicans fell short of their anticipated red wave in November, McCarthy’s path to becoming speaker has once again become complicated. The narrow margins in the House allow for just four defections if he is to reach the 218 votes needed to secure the position unless his critics opt not to vote or vote present.

And the California Republican is once again facing threats of a leadership derailment, with five conservative hard-liners — former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who launched a bid against him, and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Bob Good (R-VA), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) — asserting they plan to vote against him on the floor. An additional group of conservatives has demanded a series of rules changes in exchange for their support, calling for the reinstatement of the motion to vacate the chair, a mechanism used to oust a sitting speaker, as well as better committee assignments for the most conservative members, spending restraint, and a return to regular order.

But unlike 2015, McCarthy has vowed to bring the battle to the floor, insisting that he believes he is the best person to unify the conference and the leader members need to rally around. Despite significant challenges, he has projected confidence that he will ultimately prevail, even if it takes multiple ballots.

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In contrast with McCarthy’s last speaker’s bid, some of his most vocal critics from the past have gone to bat for him, with Jordan endorsing the California Republican and former President Donald Trump, who took credit for McCarthy’s 2015 failure, making calls to his critics advocating on his behalf.

While McCarthy has publicly been bullish about his odds, his defectors have cast doubt that he will be able to pull out a win, projecting a similar fate as before.

“At some point,” one conservative member said, “there’ll be acceptance by Kevin and the members of our conference, and they will have the rational vote, and it’ll be tinged with emotion. But it will be more rational, and we will get somebody who will use the rules strategically.”

The new Republican majority will be sworn in on Tuesday.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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