By Zachary Stieber
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to elect a new leader on Jan. 3 as Republicans take control of the lower chamber.
Speakers typically come from the majority party and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the top Republican in the chamber since 2019, was nominated by GOP members as the party’s speaker candidate.
But McCarthy faces opposition from inside the caucus, with a growing number of members saying they plan not to back him in Tuesday’s general election, which features all members in the chamber casting votes.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) became the latest member on Tuesday to oppose McCarthy, saying after a Republican conference meeting before the vote that “as it stands,” she won’t support him.
Five others, including Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the leader of the House Freedom Caucus, have been locked in negotiations with McCarthy in exchange for their votes.
The group says McCarthy hasn’t performed well in the past as minority leader and will not institute changes they see as necessary if he assumes the speakership. The members have been meeting with McCarthy but are not satisfied with his promises.
While McCarthy has made concessions on some rule changes the group was seeking, he has not gone far enough, Perry told reporters on Capitol Hill.
The group asked for a commitment to votes on specific bills, including legislation that would impose term limits on members, but McCarthy refused to make that commitment. McCarthy also dismissed requests that would require two-thirds support to pass earmark, to not support candidates in open Republican primary races, and to put certain members on certain committees, according to Perry. If McCarthy had agreed to the requests then he would have secured enough votes to win the race, the group said.
“We offered Kevin McCarthy terms last evening that he rejected,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said.
McCarthy confirmed he rejected the proposal and said the conference meeting was intense but projected confidence when asked about his prospects.
“I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor. I don’t have a problem getting a record for the most votes for speaker, too,” he said, smiling.
To win the race, a candidate must receive a majority of votes.
Other Republicans expressed frustration with the group pledging not to vote for McCarthy.
“The individuals that are opposing McCarthy have, in my opinion, moved the goalposts time and time and time again,” Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) said in Washington.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said that “the vast majority of the conference believes that Kevin McCarthy is the right person to deliver on our agenda, to push back on the Biden administration, and to help us gain and retain and grow our majority.”
McCarthy and his allies have warned that opposition to his bid could open the door to a Democrat becoming speaker.
Some Republicans could split from the caucus and back a candidate seen as moderate, such as a center-left Democrat or an anti-Donald Trump Republican such as former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the pro-McCarthy faction has argued. Combined with votes from Democrats, that candidate could end up with more votes than McCarthy.
“If we play games on the floor, the Democrats could end up picking who the speaker is,” McCarthy said during a previous television appearance.
If there’s an alternative to McCarthy, that person will come from outside the House, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a McCarthy backer, said on CNN this week.
“We’re not even thinking that far, because I really do believe Kevin is going to get there,” Fitzpatrick said when asked for names.
Gaetz told reporters: “I don’t care if we go to plurality and we elect Hakeem Jeffries.” Rep. Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is the top House Democrat.
If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the speaker’s election, voting will go to a second round. More rounds could take place if no candidate achieves a majority. The winner could ultimately need just a plurality, if members vote to change the threshold. A recess can be called as negotiations occur.
The House was slated to open its first session of the new Congress at noon.
Republicans will hold a slim majority with 222 seats in the 435-member chamber in the 118th Congress. The GOP flipped about a dozen seats in the midterm elections.
‘Need to Work Together’
Rep.-elect John James (R-Mich.) said on Fox on Tuesday that Republicans “squandered our majority” in 2016, referring to internal fractures in the party. James said that led to Democrats flipping the House in the 2018 election.
“We need to work together. We need to figure this out. We need to run the country,” James said. “Normal America, like folks back in my district, don’t care about your personality conflicts. They care about their jobs going to Mexico and China and they want to know there’s a commitment to America being satisfied to bring those jobs back. They don’t care about your purity tests. They care about fentanyl poisoning. They care about securing our border.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the last speaker, announced in late 2021 she would not seek another two years in leadership. Pelosi is remaining in office.
Every speaker race since 1923 has been settled on the first ballot.
That year, it took nine ballots to select Rep. Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) as speaker.
Multiple ballots have also been required in 13 other races, including 133 ballots and two months of voting in the 1855 race.