Nov 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy's math problem

Kevin McCarthy

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met on Tuesday with key members of his conference — including several right-wing detractors — as part of an intensifying effort to cobble together the votes he needs to become speaker.

Why it matters: McCarthy is at risk of a humiliating and potentially career-ending defeat with just five weeks until the Jan. 3 speaker election, as several members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus are still publicly vowing to deny him crucial votes.

Driving the news: Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told Axios on Tuesday he’s a firm "no" on McCarthy after previously leaving wiggle room: "I will be voting for an alternative candidate. I will not be voting for Kevin McCarthy."

  • Good said in a follow-up interview he will vote for Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who told Politico he is voting for himself.

State of play: McCarthy will need a majority of voting members to elect him speaker. With a House Republican majority of just five or six seats, he will only be able to afford a handful of defections.

  • In addition to Good, Biggs and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Ralph Norman (R-N.C.) have said they are hard "no's." Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) has also voiced firm opposition.
  • That may not be the extent of McCarthy's troubles: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of his key allies in the Freedom Caucus, estimated that privately there "could be as many as 10" no votes. Good said 20 is "in the ballpark."
  • "My hope is that those members will begin to increasingly come out publicly to build that momentum," Good added.

The other side: McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday he won’t drop out if he fails on the first vote, promising a floor fight even if the process goes into multiple ballots: "At the end of the day, we’ll get there."

Behind the scenes: The meeting on Tuesday included GOP leaders, caucus chairs representing a cross-section of House Republicans and at least a half-dozen members of the Freedom Caucus (a mixture of McCarthy supporters, opponents and undecideds).

  • The topic of discussion was GOP conference rules, which are set to be voted on on Wednesday. Freedom Caucus members are demanding changes that would give rank-and-file members greater influence.

What they’re saying: "It was a good discussion. … I’m open to negotiating anything," Norman said coming out of the meeting. "We've got five weeks to come to something."

  • Norman said it’s no secret McCarthy is trying to whip his vote amid the discussions on rules, but he's sticking by his vow to oppose the GOP leader for the moment: "I am where I am."
  • Freedom Caucus chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) called it a "cordial conversation" and signaled the rules changes will be pivotal: "Washington, D.C., is completely broken."
  • Greene, who has been whipping votes for McCarthy, said the meeting made progress toward winning over no-votes. "A few" of them have been in talks with McCarthy, she said, and "I think they’re going to come around."

What we're watching: The speculation among Republicans on who could replace McCarthy tends to focus on his No. 2, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), though he would likely struggle from many of the same problems plaguing McCarthy.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new comments from Rep. Bob Good.

Go deeper