McCarthy's Pursuit of Speaker Costly 11/28 06:13
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is in the fight of his political life,
grinding through the promises and proposals, cajoling and deal-making necessary
to win over reluctant colleagues whose support he needs to become House speaker.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is in the fight of his
political life, grinding through the promises and proposals, cajoling and
deal-making necessary to win over reluctant colleagues whose support he needs
to become House speaker.
Every new commitment from McCarthy can be seen as a potentially strategic
move, intended to quell skeptics on his right flank as he reaches for the
speaker's gavel. With a slim House majority in the midterm elections, the GOP
leader must solidify his ranks in a sprint for the 218 votes he'll need when
the new Congress convenes -- each coming at a cost and with no room for error.
"We'll get there," McCarthy said in accepting his party's nomination to run
The overtures McCarthy is making, some symbolic, others substantive, provide
a snapshot of the speaker hopeful's emerging leadership style. While McCarthy
is expected to prevail in his quest for the speaker's gavel, it is destined to
come at a political price, setting the tone and tenor of new Congress.
To start, McCarthy has promised to restore committee assignments for
far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., after she and another right-flank
lawmaker were booted by Democrats over incendiary remarks.
And he has vowed to oust Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other high-profile
Democrats from their committees in a form of political payback, setting up a
divisive House action early in the new Congress.
McCarthy has assured that under his leadership, the House will remove the
metal detectors that were installed to prevent firearms in the House chamber;
end COVID-era protocols that allowed lawmakers to vote by proxy; and fully
reopen the Capitol's limited visitor access since the Jan. 6, 2021,
insurrection by supporters of the former president, Donald Trump.
And in a dramatic nod to the far-right, McCarthy has threatened an
impeachment investigation against Homeland Security secretary Alejandro
Mayorkas unless he resigns over the department's handling of the U.S.'s
southern border with Mexico.
"McCarthy's problem is, he can't get to 218 without Marjorie Taylor Greene
and Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz," Schiff said Sunday on CNN's "State of the
Union," referring to the House GOP's most outspoken far-right members. "And so
he will do whatever they ask."
The challenge ahead for McCarthy is not unique, as he races to shore up
support before the new Congress convenes in January. Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
D-Calif., faced detractors during her own pursuit of the gavel, forced to
skillfully pick off the naysayers one by one until she had secured backing.
But the problem McCarthy faces is distinctly Republican, one that almost
doomed his most recent predecessors. Paul Ryan and John Boehner both suffered
politically as they were pushed and prodded by the GOP's increasingly far-right
flank to make concessions for their support. Eventually both men won the
speaker's gavel, but ultimately retired early.
After pushing his party to victory in the midterm elections, McCarthy won
the nod from a majority of his colleagues nominating him to run for speaker.
But the 188-31 vote among Republicans showed the shortfall he must overcome.
When the new Congress convenes in January, the whole House, Republicans and
Democrats, will vote on speaker and McCarthy's party will need to stick
together with their slim majority for him to prevail. Otherwise, a different
Republican could emerge as a compromise candidate.
"It's a tall order," said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a past chairman of the
conservative House Freedom Caucus, who waged a long-shot challenge to McCarthy
for the nomination.
"I know he thinks he's going to get there," Biggs said. "I don't know that
Even though McCarthy defeated Biggs, 188-31, in the closed-door voting, with
another five Republicans casting ballots for other candidates, that's a pool of
some three dozen votes the GOP leader needs to claw back if he hopes to win the
"They know they've got a problem," said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., another
Freedom Caucus member. "In other words, 36 no votes is a problem."
As the party leader, McCarthy has countless tools at his disposal, including
favors he can dole out to win support -- from prime committee assignments or
newly created leadership roles to commitments to elevate lawmakers' own
priorities, including investigations of President Joe Biden, his family and his
The influential Freedom Caucus has long wanted more say in the legislative
process -- rather than a top-down approach -- and its members are pushing
McCarthy with more specific demands that would give them more power even at
"I'm hopeful at the end of the day that we will come together as a
conference and elect Kevin," Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming chairman of
the Oversight Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Comer said there are "certainly five to eight members that have said they're
leaning towards voting no against Kevin McCarthy." Opposition of that magnitude
would derail McCarthy's bid to become speaker.
The California Republican has been here before, having withdrawn from the
speaker's race in 2015 when it became clear he did not have enough support.
To win over skeptics, McCarthy has been meeting with Republicans as they
hammer out their internal party rules for the new Congress. While such rules
generally don't have much relevance for the public, they play an important role
behind the scenes.
For example, some conservatives want McCarthy to impose a ban on earmarks,
which allow lawmakers to direct federal dollars to local projects and programs
in their home states, a legislative perk long derided as wasteful.
Others want McCarthy to enforce a balanced federal budget in future years,
which would require vast spending cuts.
Some of the more conservative members of the House want to restore a rule
that allows any member at any time to submit a motion to remove the speaker,
which had been used by then-Rep. Mark Meadows as a pressure point during
Boehner's tenure. Instead, they adopted a provision stating that submitting
such a "motion to vacate the chair" should only be done with party agreement.
McCarthy exited one private meeting calling it "a great discussion." He
indicated it's the beginning of a long process over the next weeks.
"I don't know if this is winning them over," he said. "I think it's
discussing and listening to them."