Kevin McCarthy faces increasingly uphill battle for House speaker gig

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would very much like to become speaker when the new House of Representatives convenes in January, but, thus far, he’s having trouble finding the votes that would confirm him to the chamber’s top position.

Mr McCarthy, a Californian, has led the Republican caucus since 2019. His party won a narrow House majority in the midterm elections, re-taking control of the House for the first time since he assumed the leadership position following former Speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement, and setting up his bid for speaker.

Mr McCarthy needs a majority of voting members of the House to support him in a vote on the House floor on 3 January, but there are signs that he might have trouble getting to that number.

Several members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have publicly said that they will not vote for Mr McCarthy, including Rep Bob Good of Virginia, Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep Ralph Norman of North Carolina, and Rep Matt Rosendale of Montana.

That might not represent the full extent of the defections. Axios reported on Wednesday that Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, an ally of Mr McCarthy, estimated that there could be as many as 20 members of the caucus who oppose his leadership effort. Lacking Democratic support, that would leave the Californian well short of a majority.

The fight Mr McCarthy is facing to cobble together a coalition to make him speaker may be a preview of the difficulties that he or anyone else will face trying to lead the Republicans next year. The party will enter the next Congress with a fractious five- or six-seat majority after a disappointing performance in the midterms, giving the House Freedom Caucus members a considerable amount of power.

If Mr McCarthy does not succeed in winning the speakership vote on his first attempt, he has said that he will not drop out of the race. Members will keep voting until one representative garners the majority they need to become speaker.

One potentially promising sign for him is that there is no clear alternative in the Republican ranks who is a clear choice to unite the caucus, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana another potential candidate with leadership experience who may have difficulities winning Freedom Caucus votes.

Rep Andy Biggs of Arizona, a Freedom Caucus member, is expected to garner only a handful of votes.

Axios reported that Mr McCarthy is working hard to rally support for his candidacy, meeting with various members including a handful from the Freedom Caucus. The Republicans are voting Wednesday on their conference rules, which the Freedom Caucus wants changed to give more influence to rank-and-file members.