House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took a step Tuesday toward becoming speaker as his Republican colleagues nominated him for the role in a closed-door vote, a spokesman for the lawmaker said.
Some conservatives have questioned McCarthy’s leadership after Republicans failed to ride a red wave into control of the House after last week’s midterm elections, but McCarthy’s doubters aren’t signaling they’ll actually block his path.
Republicans are likely to secure a House majority in the coming days as votes are counted in the few remaining races out west, and McCarthy can probably cut a deal to win over the hardliners.
“This will work out fine,” Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) told HuffPost. “These interfamily discussions always work out in the end.”
McCarthy faced a nominal challenge Tuesday from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a top member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which has sought rules changes that would essentially weaken the speaker and give rank-and-file members more power over the chamber — including the ability to depose the speaker at any time.
Biggs got 31 votes to 188 for McCarthy, members said after the secret ballot vote. Republicans are also voting Tuesday to nominate other lawmakers to leadership positions within the party.
“This is about empowering the American people through their elected representatives,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told HuffPost. “Empowering regular members to have the control of Congress, control the legislative process, and to give us the ability to truly fight against the radical Biden-Pelosi agenda.”
One problem for McCarthy’s critics is that former president Donald Trump has backed McCarthy for speaker, as have Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), two of the loudest pro-Trump Republicans in Congress.
Another problem is that it’s not clear what outcome the Freedom Caucus could achieve, other than making Republicans look crazy, if they actually went against McCarthy in January, when the full House elects its speaker. If there are a significant number of Republican defections, Democrats could try to meddle in the process and work with moderate Republicans to elect a speaker the Freedom Caucus would really hate.
“The question of whether he’ll really make it, I think, is a bit overblown,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told HuffPost. “There’s no other alternative.”
Still, the Freedom Caucus has not shied from seemingly pointless brinkmanship in the past, such as when they supported a government shutdown in a failed 2013 effort to “defund” the Affordable Care Act.
A similar high-stakes showdown could play out next year when the federal government reaches a legal limit on the amount of money it can borrow in order to pay for previously authorized spending. House Freedom Caucus members have said they’ll withhold support from a bill raising the debt limit without major concessions from Democrats.
Democratic caucus chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said he expects McCarthy will guide Republicans into high-profile confrontations with President Joe Biden, such as by using the House Oversight Committee to investigate his son Hunter’s sketchy business deals.
“What is right at the top of the extreme MAGA Republican agenda in the House? ‘Let’s investigate President Joe Biden’s family,’” Jeffries said at a press conference. “That is a message that they’re sending to the American people. It is not a winning message. But that’s what happens when you are captive to the hard right. And House Republican leadership is captive right now.”