With Kevin McCarthy's speaker bid on the line, here's who to watch

Kevin McCarthy.
Kevin McCarthy. Illustrated | Getty Images

With just weeks to go before the start of the next legislative session, one of the largest open-ended questions facing the incoming GOP House majority is: who will ultimately lead the party as the next Speaker of the House? As minority leader, California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy seemed poised to step into the role for the coming term. However, frustrations within the party over its lackluster showing in the 2022 midterms coupled with a broader pull rightward from the GOP's MAGA and Freedom Caucus members have placed McCarthy's path to the speakership in serious peril. Though he has managed to secure his party's official backing for the role, the GOP's razor-thin congressional majority means that any defections in the upcoming full House vote could be fatal for McCarthy's chances for the speakership — and potentially his future in the party at all.

As the clock ticks down to the Jan. 3 vote, this is where the key players stand on whether Kevin McCarthy should be the next Speaker of the House.

Who's against?

At maximum, Republicans will have a 222-213 House majority — one of the narrowest in decades. Assuming zero Democrats back him, this affords McCarthy just four defections from his own caucus before his speaker's bid is scuttled. Crucially, those defections must come in the form of an overt vote against him, and cannot simply be representatives who vote "present" or who are absent from the vote.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who led an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the GOP speaker's nomination from McCarthy in mid-November, has already committed to voting against McCarthy, telling the press he would vote "Biggs" instead. As reported by The Hill, Biggs is the third Republican congressman to publicly commit to voting for a concrete alternative, joining Reps. Bob Good (R-Va.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) in their opposition to McCarthy. Speaking with Axios, Good confirmed he would be voting for Biggs.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) has also committed to voting against McCarthy, although he has not clarified whether that "no" would come in the form of a "present" vote, or by actually naming an alternative.

All told, Biggs has claimed as many as 20 GOP congressmen and women are "pretty hard no's" on McCarthy's speaker bid.

Who's wavering?

In a sign of the tension between the party's anty-McCarthy wing, and the fear that a contested leadership fight would force any Republican hoping to grasp the speaker's gavel to cross the aisle — and make concessions to Democrats — to lock in a full House majority, consider Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.). A member of the far-right Freedom Caucus that's been the party's bastion of anti-McCarthy sentiment of late, Rosendale has repeatedly stressed that he is both deeply opposed to McCarthy as speaker, and will not vote "present" come January 3. However, Rosendale has also publicly stated multiple times that he would cast a ballot for McCarthy under "extreme circumstances."

Conversely, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Ne.) has signaled his willingness to address Rosendale's nightmare scenario head-on, telling reporters in mid-November that "If we have total gridlock [in the Speakers race], I'm going to work with like-minded people across the aisle to find someone agreeable for speaker. We have to govern. We can't afford to let our country be stuck in neutral."

Who's staying quiet?

Put simply: a lot of people. As compiled by The Washington Post, a number of high-profile GOP lawmakers — including members of the party's far-right flank — have declined to commit to voting for, or against, McCarthy. House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told The Hill that "I'm not making my position known. I do have an open mind, but I also see what's happening." Fellow Freedom Caucus members Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Clay Higgins (R-La.) have similarly demurred from publicly stating if they'd back McCarthy, or push for new leadership.

Who's backing him?

Despite the high-profile defections and public denunciations from his GOP colleagues, McCarthy does still enjoy sizeable support from a number of significant Republican lawmakers and power brokers. Having won the party's Speaker's nomination 188-31, he remains the leading contender for the role. Chief among his public backers is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who has bucked the trend of many of her fellow Freedom Caucus colleagues to not only support McCarthy, but urge the rest of the party to do so as well. Calling any leadership challenges "bad strategy" given the GOP's narrow majority during an interview with Steve Bannon, Greene said party disarray could "open the door and allow Liz Cheney, possibly, to become Speaker."

Incoming House Majority Leader and current Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has also thrown his weight behind McCarthy's bid, closing the door on mounting his own challenge for the position. "Whip Scalise's focus remains on moving our conservative agenda forward and maintaining our Republican majority," Scalise spokesperson Chris Bond told Politico in early November. "When a Speaker's race is called, he'll be supporting Leader McCarthy."

Perhaps most crucially, however, is the support coming from the party's undeniable center of gravity: former president and current candidate for the GOP's 2024 nomination, Donald Trump, who endorsed McCarthy as speaker on the eve of the 2022 midterms. While Trump's endorsements have been mercurial and fleeting in the past he has, as of yet, not shifted his position on wanting McCarthy to have the gavel in the coming legislative term.

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