House Republicans’ speaker nominee Kevin McCarthy does not yet have enough votes to win a floor election in January, but he told reporters Tuesday he will not drop out of the running and plans to take the fight to the floor if necessary.
“We’ll have 218,” the California Republican said, referring to the number of votes necessary to win a majority of the House in the floor election. “I'll get there.”
Before the Thanksgiving recess, the House Republican Conference nominated McCarthy for speaker. He earned 188 votes in the secret-ballot conference nomination. His opponent, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, earned 31 and another five write-in votes went to candidates whose names were not disclosed.
McCarthy needs to win over a vast majority of those 36 opponents if he wants to be elected speaker in the January floor vote. While two House races remain uncalled, the final party split is expected to be 222-212, with one vacancy after Virginia Democratic Rep. A. Donald McEachin died Monday just weeks after being reelected.
Despite that vacancy, the majority threshold McCarthy needs to reach still remains 218 if all other members participate in the vote. The only way for McCarthy to lower that is if lawmakers are absent or vote “present,” as only members voting for a speaker candidate by name count toward determining the majority threshold.
“I think everybody should vote for me,” McCarthy said, when asked if he would request some members to vote present. “That's the best place to go.”
McCarthy’s declaration that he will not drop out of contention for speaker is significant given he did so when he ran for the post in 2015. At that time some of the same conservatives made clear they opposed his bid before the conference nomination. McCarthy announced he would withdraw because he felt the conference needed a “fresh face” to unite them, and Republicans went on to elect Paul D. Ryan as speaker.
Without any absences or present votes, four is the maximum number of GOP votes McCarthy could lose and still become speaker. More than four Republicans have already said they will not vote for McCarthy in January, including Biggs, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Matt Rosendale of Montana.
“He wants to maintain the status quo, which consolidates power into his hands and a small group of individuals he personally selects. We need a leader who can stand up to a Democrat-controlled Senate and President Biden, and unfortunately, that isn’t Kevin McCarthy,” Rosendale tweeted Nov. 16.
The anti-McCarthy comments picked up after a GOP conference meeting Nov. 16 where rules changes House Freedom Caucus members sought to decentralize power and give rank-and-file members more say in legislation and committee decisions were dismissed.
Good said McCarthy shut down their rules proposals and Republicans need to look at alternative speaker candidates because he and enough other conservatives wouldn’t relent on opposing McCarthy. Biggs underscored that in a Nov. 18 tweet saying he could not vote for McCarthy.
“I do not believe he will ever get to 218 votes, and I refuse to assist him in his effort to get those votes,” Biggs said.
The rules meeting was just one of two planned sessions, with House Republicans expected to finish the debate Wednesday. However, McCarthy has offered little indication he plans to give in to any of conservatives' demands. When asked about it, he just said Republicans will need to unify at the end of the day.
McCarthy may literally mean the end of the day when the speaker election is held in January, as he acknowledges his opponents may not relent until then.
If McCarthy doesn't get a majority in the first vote, the speaker election would proceed to multiple ballots until someone does. The last time a speaker election required more than a single vote was 1923. McCarthy is warning his colleagues against going that far, noting it would only harm Republicans as they step into a narrow majority with Democrats still in control of the White House and the Senate.
“We're only going to win together or lose individually,” McCarthy said. “Having a challenge on the floor is never going to be positive. You turn the floor over to the Democrats when you do that.”