McCarthy’s race for speaker risks upending House on Day One

Dec 16, 2022, 3:00 PM | Updated: Dec 19, 2022, 9:37 am
FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Calif., speaks at an annual leadership meeting of t...

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Calif., speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

              FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Calif., speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
            FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., joined by Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, talks to reporters about the appropriations process by the majority Democrats to fund the government, at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) FILE - Nancy Pelosi of California takes the gavel from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., after being elected House Speaker at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks to the chamber for final votes as the House wraps up its work for the week, at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his quest to rise to House speaker, Kevin McCarthy is charging straight into history — potentially becoming the first nominee in 100 years unable to win the job on a first-round floor vote.

The increasingly real prospect of a messy fight over the speaker’s gavel on Day One of the new Congress on Jan. 3 is worrying House Republicans, who are bracing for the spectacle. They have been meeting endlessly in private at the Capitol trying to resolve the standoff.

Taking hold of a perilously slim 222-seat Republican majority in the 435-member House and facing a handful of defectors, McCarthy is working furiously to reach the 218-vote threshold typically needed to become speaker.

“The fear is, that if we stumble out of the gate,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., a McCarthy ally, then the voters who sent the Republicans to Washington “will revolt over that and they will feel let down.”

Not since the disputed election of 1923 has a candidate for House speaker faced the public scrutiny of convening a new session of Congress only to have it descend into political chaos, with one vote after another, until a new speaker is chosen. At that time, it eventually took a grueling nine ballots to secure the gavel.

McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, California, who was first elected in 2006 and who remains allied with Donald Trump, has signaled he is willing to go as long as it takes in a floor vote to secure the speaker’s job he has wanted for years. The former president has endorsed McCarthy, and is said to be making calls on McCarthy’s behalf. McCarthy has given no indication he would step aside, as he did in 2015 when it was clear he did not have the support.

But McCarthy also is acknowledging the holdouts won’t budge. “It’s all in jeopardy,” McCarthy said Friday in an interview with conservative Hugh Hewitt.

The dilemma reflects not just McCarthy’s uncertain stature among his peers, but also the shifting political norms in Congress as party leaders who once wielded immense power — the names of Cannon, Rayburn and now Pelosi adorn House meeting rooms and office buildings — are seeing it slip away in the 21st century.

Rank-and-file lawmakers have become political stars on their own terms, able to shape their brands on social media and raise their own money for campaigns. House members are less reliant than they once were on the party leaders to dole out favors in exchange for support.

The test for McCarthy, if he is able to shore up the votes on Jan. 3 or in the days that follow, will be whether he emerges a weakened speaker, forced to pay an enormous price for the gavel, or whether the potentially brutal power struggle emboldens his new leadership.

“Does he want to go down as the first speaker candidate in 100 years to go to the floor and have to essentially, you know, give up?” said Jeffrey A. Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California and co-author of “Fighting for the Speakership.”

“But if he pulls this rabbit out of the hat, you know, maybe he actually has more of the right stuff.”

Republicans met in private this past week for another lengthy session as McCarthy’s detractors, largely a handful of conservative stalwarts from the Freedom Caucus, demand changes to House rules that would diminish the power of the speaker’s office.

The Freedom Caucus members and others want assurances they will be able to help draft legislation from the ground up and have opportunities to amend bills during the floor debates. They want enforcement of the 72-hour rule that requires bills to be presented for review before voting.

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the past two Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, faced similar challenges, but they were able to rely on the currency of their position to hand out favors, negotiate deals and otherwise win over opponents to keep them in line — for a time. Boehner and Ryan ended up retiring early.

But the central demand by McCarthy’s opponents’ could go too far: They want to reinstate a House rule that allows any single lawmaker to file a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially allowing a floor vote to boot the speaker from office.

The early leaders of the Freedom Caucus, under Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman turned Trump’s chief of staff, wielded the little-used procedure as a threat over Boehner, and later, over Ryan.

It wasn’t until Pelosi seized the gavel the second time, in 2019, that House Democrats voted to do away with the rule and require a majority vote of the caucus to mount a floor vote challenge to the speaker.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said the 200-year-old rule was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, so it’s one he would like to see in place.

“We’re still a long way from fixing this institution the way it needs to be fixed,” Roy told reporters Thursday at the Capitol.

What’s unclear for McCarthy is even if he gives in to the various demands being made by the conservatives, whether that will be enough for them to drop their opposition to his leadership.

Several House Republicans said they do not believe McCarthy will ever be able to overcome the detractors.

“I don’t believe he’s going to get to 218 votes,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., among the holdouts. “And so I look forward to when that recognition sets in and, for the good of the country, for the good of the Congress, he steps aside, and we can consider other candidates.”

The opposition to McCarthy has promoted a counteroffensive from other groups of House Republicans who are becoming more vocal in their support of the GOP leader — and more concerned about the fallout if the start of the new Congress descends into an internal party fight.

Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, who leads the Republican Governance Group, was wearing an “O.K.” button on his lapel — meaning, “Only Kevin,” he explained.

Some have suggested that the opponents to McCarthy could simply vote “present,” lowering the threshold for reaching a majority — a tactic Pelosi and Boehner both used to win with fewer than 218 votes.

While some have suggested threatening the detractors with removal from their committee assignments or other retribution, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a leader of another conservative governance caucus, said: “Anybody who thinks that the holdouts are going to be bullied into compliance doesn’t understand how this town works.”

Retiring Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who recalled that then-Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia dropped out of the race in 1998 when he didn’t have the votes, cautioned McCarthy against backing down.

“My advice to Kevin is, you got to go to the finish line,” Upton said. “You can’t fold the cards. You got to make these folks vote — and vote.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Paul Njoroge, right, points to photos of his wife and three children that were killed in the 2019 c...
Associated Press

Boeing pleads not guilty in case over deadly Max crashes

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Boeing pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge that it misled regulators who approved its 737 Max, the plane that was involved in two crashes that killed 346 people. Family members of passengers who died gave emotional testimony, calling for criminal prosecution of top Boeing officials. The families are trying […]
19 hours ago
abortion Capital gains tax Olympia meeting legislature abortion...
Associated Press

Washington lawmakers hear testimony on 7 abortion bills

Abortion rights proposals have been front and center in Olympia, Washington, this week as state lawmakers heard hours of public testimony on seven proposals that would reinforce abortion access.
19 hours ago
FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at t...
Gene Johnson, Associated Press

Justices weigh effort to balance Washington state’s tax code

SEATTLE (AP) — An effort to balance what is considered the nation’s most regressive state tax code came before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, with justices hearing arguments about whether they should overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. Washington is one of nine states without an income tax, and […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

1 year, 1 day in prison for lawyer in police car firebombing

NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer who purchased gasoline that another lawyer used in firebombing an unoccupied New York City police car during protests over George Floyd’s death in 2020 was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in prison. Colinford Mattis, appearing in federal court, was also ordered to pay just over $30,000 […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Ex-Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr appears for a court hearing at the Kent Co...
Associated Press

Prosecutor: Don’t dismiss murder charge against ex-cop

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor has asked a judge not to dismiss a second-degree murder charge against a former Grand Rapids police office r accused of shooting a Black motorist in the back of the head during a struggle over a Taser. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker filed court papers this week opposing […]
19 hours ago
FILE - In this April 4, 2017, file photo, fountains erupt along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas. A...
Associated Press

Lawsuit: Vegas Strip resorts used vendor to fix hotel rates

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal lawsuit in Nevada is seeking class-action damages for countless hotel patrons who booked rooms in Las Vegas since 2019, alleging that most hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have used a third-party vendor to illegally fix prices. The complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleges […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
McCarthy’s race for speaker risks upending House on Day One