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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy faces opposition for Speaker as time runs short

By Sarah May on
 December 29, 2022

Though his path to claiming the speaker's gavel in the U.S. House of Representatives once seemed all but assured, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is currently racing against the clock to secure enough votes to defeat a cadre of fellow Republicans standing in opposition to his potential ascent to the role, as The Hill reports.

McCarthy's struggles come as lawmakers left the capital on Friday without a clear picture of who will ultimately win the day come Jan. 3, when the key vote – or votes – to decide who will serve as speaker in the Republican-controlled lower chamber will be held.

McCarthy scrambling

As the New York Post notes, McCarthy's prospects have grown increasingly shaky in recent days, due to the emergence of a group of Republicans who remain unconvinced about or outright hostile to the idea that he should occupy the perch of power being ceded by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

According to The Hill, no fewer than five Republican representatives have made it clear or hinted strongly that McCarthy is not their choice for the top job, with others seeking to leverage a pledge of support to obtain guarantees of cooperation on policy priorities and the like.

McCarthy has reportedly engaged in conversations with his internal party opponents in recent weeks but has apparently failed to change the minds of those who remain reluctant to support his candidacy, leaving him shy of the 218 votes he needs if all members are present and cast ballots when the time comes.

According to Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) of the House Freedom Caucus comprised of hardline Republicans less likely to vote for McCarthy, “Nothing's changed. Requests are still there.”

Show of support

Despite widespread acknowledgment of the fight in which McCarthy is engaged, The Hill noted that over 100 House Republicans – both current and incoming members – have declared their support for his candidacy in public fashion while also blasting those standing in the way.

McCarthy's most ardent supporters created a list of so-called “Only Kevin” endorsements, reaching 54 in number, in a show of strength some say is designed to sway momentum away from House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who many view as a possible compromise candidate.

For his part, however, Scalise has pledged his solid support to the California lawmaker.

“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 indicated on Friday.

Freedom Caucus weighs in

Despite Scalise's statements, however, there are some on the conservative wing of the party who suggest that he may indeed be the candidate capable of prompting consensus without the need for multiple rounds of voting.

As the Post noted, Republican firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) – an unapologetic opponent of McCarthy -- said of Scalise, “Our relationship is on the ascent,” and he stated that others who share his viewpoint regarding the minority leader would unreservedly vote for the Louisiana lawmaker if it came down to a contest between the two.

“No one ran against [Scalise] for Majority Leader. He was elected unanimously for that position,” said Gaetz, underscoring Scalise's widespread respect among his colleagues.

Another Freedom Caucus source said of his electability in a putative speaker's race, “Scalise is a party hero. He got shot. He's a southerner. He's more conservative than Kevin.”

Though Scalise has not thrown his hat into the ring for the job of speaker, he has reportedly not negated the possibility that things could shake out in such a way where he ends up with the role, saying, “I'm not going to get into speculation. Obviously, our focus is on getting it resolved by January 3rd. And there's a lot of conversations that everybody has been having.”

Unexpected twist

A rather strange twist to McCarthy's vote-wrangling activities emerged when Republican Congressman-elect George Santos (NY) was revealed to have engaged in a slew of outright fabrications about his work history, educational background, religion, and more, potentially imperiling a vote on which his bid for the speaker's job may rely.

An already-slim Republican majority in the house can ill-afford a resignation from Santos, but along with that reality comes the inevitable criticism if he does not face serious repercussions from the party for his egregious misrepresentations and lies.

As one Republican strategist told The Hill, “He's eventually going to pay a price. But he's not going to pay a price at least until after the Speaker vote because of the tight majority.” The source added pointedly, “You have to honestly play the counterfactual. If this situation erupted within the Democratic caucus, [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] would keep this under wraps as well and not hand out a punishment until after that happens, whatever that punishment may be.”