WASHINGTON — A week-long standoff between Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and his conservative detractors comes to a head Tuesday as lawmakers prepare to vote on a new House speaker.
A small group of far-right members close to former President Donald Trump have vowed to stand together in denying McCarthy of California the speaker’s gavel. Because the new 222-212 Republican majority is so slim, just five Republican lawmakers could prevent him from getting the 218 votes he needs to win in the first round. That would send the process to multiple votes, and almost certain chaos on the floor.
The last time this happened was exactly 100 years ago.
Five conservatives, the so-called Never Kevins led by Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona, say they will not vote for McCarthy under any circumstances, urging him to drop out to allow another candidate to step up. .
“We shouldn’t be beholden to Kevin McCarthy’s political philosophy at all, because Kevin McCarthy doesn’t believe in anything,” Gaetz said in a recent Turning Point USA Conference in Phoenix.
However, McCarthy’s problems are not limited to the Gaetz group. In an attempt to win the support of a separate group of Trump-aligned House Freedom Caucus members, McCarthy agreed over the weekend to a set of rule changes that would dilute his powers as a speaker.
But nine members of that group, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., characterized their proposals as too little and too late.
In their New Year’s Day letter, they wrote that it did not address several of their demands, such as ensuring that the leadership does not work to defeat some conservative candidates in open primaries. Members also said that McCarthy’s proposed rule changes would still be too restrictive on members’ ability to expel the speaker in the middle of Congress.
“Despite some progress made,” the Freedom Caucus group wrote, “Mr. McCarthy’s statement comes incredibly late in addressing the continuing shortcomings before the opening of the 118th Congress on January 3.”
McCarthy, who is backed by Trump and easily defeated Biggs to win his party’s nomination for speaker, is not backing down. He is already moving into the speaker’s suite, and as he left the Capitol Monday, he predicted that the day of the speaker’s vote would be a “good day.”
Eager to seize the reins of their new majority, most House Republicans have publicly rallied behind McCarthy. And his staunch loyalists, who call themselves the “Only Kevins,” have vowed to go to the canvas for McCarthy and lock down any challengers who emerge.
“You can’t beat someone with anyone. So who’s going to beat McCarthy? Who will get 218 votes on the floor? Nobody but him,” moderate Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told reporters.
Fitzpatrick said he will vote for McCarthy “in the first round, the 1000th round and every round in between,” adding: “And there are a lot of us like that.”
The showdown could have major implications for the House. No other House business can occur until a speaker is selected, meaning floor votes, committee hearings and other congressional work will halt if Republicans can’t agree on a new leader.
That could delay further House Republican investigations into the Biden administration’s handling of the border, the response to Covid-19 and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The refusal of a small group of people to unite around who the vast majority voted hurts the entire team and will set us back from the start,” said another McCarthy ally, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska.
Garrett Haake Y Allie Raffa contributed.