Dec 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

5 House conservatives plan to vote as unit on McCarthy's speaker bid

Kevin McCarthy

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Five right-wing House Republicans are vowing to move as a united bloc on whether to support GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) bid for House speaker, Axios has learned. Several insist McCarthy will never get their vote even if he makes massive concessions.

Why it matters: Given Republicans' underperformance in the midterm elections, McCarthy can only afford to lose the support of four members of his conference to secure the magic 218 votes needed to become speaker.

  • If Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mt.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) are serious about voting as a unit on McCarthy's fate on Jan. 3, it could derail the GOP leader's path to the top job.

The big picture: McCarthy is working tirelessly to negotiate concessions that would tamp down the far-right rebellion — including a controversial proposal to change the "motion to vacate," which would allow any member to force a vote on ousting the speaker.

  • But some conservatives in the "group of five," such as Biggs and Gaetz, are widely viewed in the conference as "Never-McCarthy" members who won't support him regardless of what he caves on.
  • "I'm not voting for him on Jan. 3," Biggs, who is also running to become House Speaker, told Axios. Asked if there's anything McCarthy could do to change his vote, he shook his head and quipped: "I could be dead I guess."

What they're saying: "We all operate as five. ... We come as five, so we're going to agree on all [of the concessions we need]," Norman told reporters on Wednesday.

  • Norman said he's most concerned about McCarthy's approach to spending, but has also told the leader he should agree to the rule change for motioning to vacate the chair. "It's to his benefit," Norman said. "The motion to vacate gives accountability."
  • Biggs told Axios he agreed with Norman that the five members have "a fundamental agreement," adding: "I think the five are gonna vote no."
  • He quickly clarified the group will technically have to vote for another candidate — and he expects they'll vote for him personally. "I'm voting for Biggs ... I think they'll vote for me."

Gaetz offered a similar assessment as Biggs, telling Axios, "We’re going to be a ‘no' ... I speak for myself, but I think the chance that the five of us don’t vote together is pretty much zero."

  • “I would just say that we all want the same things," said Good. "And we’re all committed together that we recognize that Kevin McCarthy is not the right person to be speaker and he’s not going to be speaker."
  • Good echoed Biggs' hardline sentiments on his own vote, telling Axios: "Yeah, I’m not going to vote Kevin McCarthy."

The intrigue: Unlike his co-conspirators, Norman appears to be leaving himself some wiggle room. "We’ll negotiate. By 11:59[am] on Jan. 3, we’ll know," he said.

  • He even threw out a concession McCarthy could offer to sway his vote: a plan to balance the budget in seven years. “I gotta have a seven-year plan, or 10 is as long as I’m going," he said.
  • But, Norman noted, that may not be enough to persuade others: “Everybody’s got different issues. Mine is the budget. Other people, just different things.”

The other side: Asked about his detractors moving as a bloc, McCarthy told Punchbowl News, "If they all vote for me, that’s good."

  • McCarthy's No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), told Axios he believes the Republican leader is making progress with his foes: "Yeah, he's been meeting and working through with a number of members to get there."

What to watch: Rep. Scott Perry, a top target for McCarthy to sway as chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Axios that his support isn't a guarantee even if McCarthy "considers and enacts the majority of provisions" he and six other Republicans laid out in a letter last week.

  • If McCarthy completed those demands, "then he'd be a competitor," Perry said. "There's no guarantee of anything."
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