Sep 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers plot McCarthy replacement in case motion to vacate succeeds

Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Discussions on who could replace Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are beginning to emerge from the shadows, with multiple GOP sources questioning if he'll make it until December.

Why it matters: Some House GOP members — including McCarthy allies — say there should be a contingency plan to avoid another grueling speaker vote in case Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) threatened motion to vacate were to succeed.

  • Recruiting a viable candidate is likely to be difficult, with multiple members saying they are not interested in the position.
  • "It'll be a unity speaker, and whoever it is will cut a deal to get Dems and then change House rules to preclude motion to vacate," one member speculated. "But he [McCarthy] may keep dancing his way through the fire."
  • Two GOP lawmakers noted that House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) would be the natural successor, saying a caretaker speaker could bide time while Scalise undergoes cancer treatment ahead of the start of the new Congress.

The intrigue: One lawmaker confirmed to Axios that Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) was approached multiple times about being a potential replacement, but declined interest in the position.

  • A slew of different names have been floated by members in different factions, including Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.), House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).
  • The Washington Post cited Emmer as a potential favorite in a story that published Thursday evening. Emmer denied having interest.

While no formal mobilization has taken place, talk of moderate GOP Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) has been been raised, with one Democrat telling Axios that Bacon would be a viable candidate to receive backing from both parties.

  • "I fully stand with Kevin and want him to succeed," Bacon told Axios.

The other side: McCarthy allies told Axios they believe he'll weather the latest storm, arguing no other member can receive the support needed to get the gavel.

  • "Kevin's been a highly effective speaker— he unified members in the opening week and just done an excellent job. So he's the only person who can keep it together," McHenry told Axios.
  • Cole and Emmer shot down the prospect of wanting to assume the role.

Zoom in: Members told Axios that McCarthy is on shakier ground than previous difficult negotiations.

  • Moderates take issue with having to take "unnecessary" difficult votes and conservatives argue he has breached the agreement he made to obtain the gavel.

Zoom out: A motion to vacate is all but inevitable if McCarthy works with Democrats or approves a bipartisan stopgap coming to the floor, and it's unclear whether members across the aisle will back him to retain his gavel.

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