It’s crunch time for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Members of Congress departed Washington on Friday with the group of House Republicans voicing opposition to McCarthy for Speaker showing no signs of wavering, setting up a dramatic Jan. 3 Speaker’s vote — or series of votes — on the first day of the 118th Congress.
McCarthy brushed off a question on Friday asking how he plans to lock up support over the holidays, saying he plans to “go home; have a really nice Christmas.”
At least five House Republicans have explicitly said or strongly indicated they will not vote for McCarthy to be Speaker, and several others have withheld support for him as they push for commitments on governing priorities and rules changes that would empower individual members.
No Speaker vote has gone to a second ballot in a century.
But with House Republicans heading into the majority with 222 seats to 212 for Democrats and one vacancy, that opposition could keep McCarthy from securing the gavel. He needs 218 votes, assuming all members are present and voting for a candidate.
As the GOP leader aims to secure the votes to be Speaker, he is making overtures to his critics, and his allies are mounting a forceful show of support.
He said he supports requiring 72 hours between release of final bill text and a vote in the House, one request laid out in a letter from seven current and incoming members.
After several of those withholding support from McCarthy said last week that the House should block bills from GOP senators who vote for the omnibus government funding bill, McCarthy endorsed the idea and pledged those bills would be “dead on arrival in the House” if he is Speaker.
And in an acknowledgement of his critics’ call for a “Church-style” committee to investigate alleged government abuses, McCarthy similarly called for a “Church-style” investigation into the FBI and CIA. The name is a reference to a 1975 Senate select committee named for former Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that investigated intelligence agencies.
“He’s grabbing it and using it and talking about it. I’m not surprised because we’ve been talking about it for a while,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who has not confirmed how he plans to vote on Jan. 3 but has repeatedly said McCarthy does not currently have the votes to be Speaker.
In recent weeks, McCarthy has held meetings with his critics and detractors, but none of them have said his commitments have swayed them to support him.
And disagreement remains on other points, particularly on restoring any member’s ability to make a “motion to vacate the chair,” a move to force a vote on ousting the Speaker. House Republicans adopted a rule that allows the motion to be brought up if half the conference agrees, but McCarthy detractors want that bar to be lower.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said recently called it her “red line” for support of a Speaker.
“Nothing’s changed. Requests are still there,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chairman of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Meanwhile, more than 100 current and incoming House Republicans have publicly said they support McCarthy for Speaker, and many are frustrated about the opposition. The uncertainty has already caused House Republicans to put off selecting committee chairs, delaying behind-the-scenes organizing activities like hiring staff for the next Congress.
McCarthy allies have amped up public shows of support, compiling a list of 54 “Only Kevin” House GOP endorsements — which may discourage support for his most obvious potential alternative, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.).
Scalise says he is supporting McCarthy.
“Kevin’s going to get there, and he’s going to have a lot of meetings with members to make sure that we get this result on January 3,” Scalise said Friday when asked about speculation about him being a possible alternative to McCarthy.
Many McCarthy allies are brushing off the opposition as a negotiation tactic, and expect critics to cave.
“I think he’ll have it on the first ballot,” said Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.).
A lack of an alternative GOP Speaker candidate, McCarthy allies say, is the biggest sign that he will ultimately become Speaker. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is running as a protest challenger to McCarthy, but even the “Never Kevin” Republicans acknowledge that he is not a viable alternative.
McCarthy told reporters on Friday, before members left, that he had talked to Biggs the day before. Asked if he urged Biggs to drop out, McCarthy said he did not.
McCarthy detractors tease that there could be a viable alternative candidate. But they will not name names for fear of putting a target on anyone’s back.
“I think on the second ballot, it will become a little more clear on who we think can get us to 218,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said on a recent Politico podcast.
Good said there have been “private conversations” between the anti-McCarthy crowd and other potential Speaker candidates initiated by both the McCarthy opponents and by those interested in becoming Speaker.
“Let’s say he has 20 votes against him on the first ballot. If he has 40 votes against him on the second ballot, do you think we’re going to continue to keep his name in play? I would suggest we won’t,” Good said.
Good did indicate that whoever the McCarthy detractors’ preferred alternative would be would likely be a sitting member of the House, saying while it is “technically” possible for the Speaker to be a nonmember, it is “practically improbable.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are watching the drama unfold.
After McCarthy made a lengthy floor speech in opposition to the omnibus spending bill on Friday, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) quipped: “After listening to that, it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet.”