Kevin McCarthy’s Race for Speaker of the House Risks Upending the House of Representatives

In his quest to become Speaker of the House, minority leader Kevin McCarthy is marching straight into the history books, possibly becoming the first nominee in 100 years who cannot win the position on the first round of floor voting. 

The increasing likelihood of a challenging and messy fight on the floor on the first day of the new Congress on January 3 worries House GOP members bracing for a political spectacle. They have been holding several private meetings to try to resolve the situation. 

Taking control of a slim 222-seat Republican majority in the House and some opposition, McCarthy is working doggedly to reach the 218-vote threshold needed to become Speaker. 

“The fear is that if we stumble out of the gate,” said Republican Representative Jim Banks of Indiana and an ally of McCarthy, the voters who sent the Republicans to Washington “will revolt over that and they will feel let down.”

Since the disputed 1923 election, a candidate for the Speaker of the House has received as much public scrutiny of convening a new session of Congress to have it descend into political chaos, with numerous votes until the election of the new Speaker. The 1923 election took nine grueling ballots to choose a speaker.

McCarthy was first elected in 2006 and remains allied with former President Donald Trump. He has been endorsed by Trump, who is said to be making calls on behalf of McCarthy. 

Freedom Caucus demands congressional rule changes

GOP members met in private over the past week for another long session, while detractors of McCarthy, primarily a handful from the Freedom Caucus, demanded changes to congressional rules that would reduce the power of the office of the Speaker. 

Freedom Caucus members and others want guarantees they will have the opportunity to help draft legislation from the bottom up and have the chance to amend the bills during debates on the floor. They also want the enforcement of the 72-hour rule that requires that bills be presented for review before voting. 

“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?” asked professor at the University of Southern California and co-writer of “Fighting for the Speakership,” Jeffrey A. Jenkins. “But if he pulls this rabbit out of the hat, you know, maybe he actually has more of the right stuff.”

Several House GOP members don’t believe McCarthy will ever be able to overcome his detractors

“I don’t believe he’s going to get to 218 votes,” said Republican Representative Bob Good of Virginia. “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 being elected Speaker has promoted a counteroffensive from other House Republican groups who are becoming more vocal in their support of the minority leader — with many concerned about beginning the new session of Congress with an internal party fight.