McCarthy struggles to win support for Speaker

With less than 24 hours before the House is set to vote on a Speaker, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has yet to lock up the votes to secure the gavel.

McCarthy has made some late concessions and overtures to the right flank that weaken his own power and aim to address their requests to take a more aggressive stance against Democrats and the Biden administration.

But those who have declared opposition to him are not wavering, and critics who have not declared how they intend to vote are showing signs of stronger resistance to McCarthy rather than support for him.

“The fact that we are now approaching the 11th hour is not the fault, or is not the responsibility, of his detractors. It’s his responsibility, and the blame lies with him,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who has not said how he plans to vote on the floor, said on Sunday.

Additionally, the Club for Growth, an influential conservative group, is urging opposition to a Speaker candidate who does not make other concessions — measures that McCarthy is unlikely to support.

With 222 incoming Republicans to 212 Democrats, McCarthy can afford to lose only four GOP votes if every member votes for a Speaker candidate.

Despite the uncertainty, McCarthy has started moving into the Speaker’s office in the Capitol that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) moved out of over the holidays.

But there is no name plate, yet, above the entrance to the Speaker suite.

As he walked out of that office on Monday, reporters asked McCarthy whether he has the votes to win the gavel on Tuesday.

“And take away all the excitement?” McCarthy responded, according to a video posted by NBC.

McCarthy added: “I think we will have a good day tomorrow.”

The GOP Leader met with some of his strongest supporters and fiercest detractors in the Speaker’s office on Monday evening ahead of the Tuesday floor showdown.

Coming out of McCarthy’s office, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he hopes McCarthy can win on the first ballot.

“We’ll have a conversation tomorrow. It’s always better when they’re here, I think with some of the freshman,” Jordan said. House Republicans are set to have an internal conference meeting Tuesday morning.

McCarthy offered some late concessions to those withholding support for him over the weekend, including allowing a move to “vacate the chair” — meaning to force a vote on ousting the Speaker — with the approval of five Republican members, rather than a threshold of at least half of the House GOP Conference.

But his critics maintain that the measure, which was neutered by Democrats after they took control of the House, should be brought back needing only one member to make the motion as a check on the Speaker’s power, as it did for more than a century. A use of the motion in 2015 contributed to pushing former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign later that year.

A House rules package released Sunday also included plans to create a House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government,” an apparent recognition of a right-flank request to form a “Church-style” committee to investigate alleged government abuses, in reference to a 1975 Senate select committee named for former Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that investigated intelligence agencies.

And in a letter to colleagues on Sunday, McCarthy pledged to use his power to assign members to committee panels to “ensure they more closely reflect the ideological makeup of our conference,” addressing another concern of the right flank.

Nine House Republicans signaled in a Sunday letter that they are still unhappy, though.

“At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient,” the members said in the letter, led by Perry.

The group of nine is notably separate from a group of five “Never Kevin” Republicans who have previously said they will not support him, bringing the ranks of potential opposers to at least 14 GOP members.

One point mentioned in the letter is that McCarthy has not committed to staying neutral in GOP primaries. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-aligned PAC, spent millions to boost preferred candidates in the 2022 midterms.

The Club for Growth released a “Key Vote” alert on Monday also urging members to vote against any candidate who does not support certain reforms, echoing the concern about McCarthy’s primary involvement without mentioning him by name.

“Congressional Leadership Fund should be prohibited from spending money or providing grants to any super PAC to engage in open Republican primaries or against any Republican incumbent. Additionally, the Speaker shall not be permitted to solicit funds or direct any other super PAC to oppose a Republican incumbent,” the alert said.

Perry has also started being more vocally critical of McCarthy online and in comments to the media, bringing up the fact that conservatives had first raised rules change requests over the summer, and pointing out his past work with Democrats on spending measures. 

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), another member who has withheld support for McCarthy without saying how he plans to vote, offered another cryptic message on Twitter Monday afternoon.

“Some people who run campaigns against the swamp sure are quick to wilt in the face of challenges (to different degrees) to that very swamp,” Roy said. 

Through all the vocal opposition, though, McCarthy still has a key advantage: There is no viable GOP alternative for Speaker.

Allies and supporters of McCarthy have signaled that they will not vote for any alternative to McCarthy as long as he is still seeking the post.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) has mounted a protest challenge to McCarthy for Speaker, but not even his fellow McCarthy detractors think he has a serious shot at the gavel.

Incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), the most obvious potential McCarthy alternative, and Jordan, a favorite of conservatives, have both said they plan to support McCarthy.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the strongest McCarthy opponents, on Monday predicted that a “true” conservative would emerge to challenge McCarthy after the first failed ballot.

“I think you’ll see on the second ballot an increasing number of members vote for a true candidate who can represent the conservative center of the conference, can motivate the base,” Good said on Fox News.

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