Dec 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kevin McCarthy goes on offense in speaker battle

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks in the Capitol Rotunda on Dec. 6, during a ceremony for police who defended the Capitol on 1/6.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks in the Capitol Rotunda on Dec. 6, during a ceremony for police who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is pivoting to more aggressive tactics to buoy his bid for speaker — beginning with 54 defiant "Kevin Only" statements of unqualified support, provided first to Axios.

The big picture: Some of them say they're a hard "no" on anyone besides McCarthy — and won't vote for anyone else on the first ballot or the 100th ballot.

Why it matters: McCarthy allies are trying to capitalize on growing GOP frustration with five House Republicans holdouts who, if they stuck together, could deny him the gavel.

  • "Kevin gave them an opportunity to negotiate in good faith," a McCarthy adviser told me.
  • "Now there's going to be more of an effort to expose the craziness of what they're doing."

What's happening: The public battle over the speakership has mostly been fought on the terms of the five rebels.

  • Now, fears are rising of a chaotic floor battle when the vote for speaker is taken on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress.
  • So McCarthy is trying to flip the script by capitalizing on growing impatience with the five, who have been condemned as "saboteurs" and "boneheads" by conservative radio host Mark Levin.

Zoom in: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), one of the most conservative members, said in a statement to Axios: "McCarthy has given conservatives a seat at the table, which is why I'm supporting him for Speaker."

  • Banks' backing is significant because he's a former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee. He gained popularity among the right-wing Freedom Caucus during the Trump years.
  • Those are members McCarthy needs to win over. Banks is a bridge between leadership (the establishment) and the hard right.

Between the lines: The majority of the conference has long supported — and plans to vote for — McCarthy in January.

  • A group of "Only Kevin"s — a mix of loyal conservatives and mainstream Republicans — donned "OK" buttons last week in a sign of solidarity. They're trying to apply as much pressure as they can to be sure McCarthy ekes it out.

Zoom out: The 54 testimonials by members and members-elect (see them all here) are heavy on moderates and establishment types — McCarthy's natural allies. But the group includes some notable conservatives:

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a right-wing agitator, has morphed into one of McCarthy's staunchest allies in the Freedom Caucus.
  • Rep-elect Max Miller of Ohio, a former Trump aide, was one of the ex-president's first 2022 endorsements.
  • Rep-elect Harriet Hageman of Wyoming trounced Rep. Liz Cheney in her August primary.
  • Rep-elect Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin was at the Capitol during the attack.

Reality check: A blizzard of allies' proclamations doesn't change the underlying reason this small group casts such a large shadow. As long as they move as a bloc — as they've vowed to do — they can block a speaker.

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