The cartoonish staring contest between the House Republicans has lingered this week, with neither side showing any signs of blinking. The small but mighty chorus of MAGA-aligned detractors in Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) caucus have stepped up their opposition and are now calling on McCarthy to drop out so they can find an alternative.
“He can avoid it now. He doesn’t have the votes,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) told CNN this week. “We can move to different candidates. I’m willing to entertain anyone else.”
Freedom Caucus conservative hardliners insist another candidate will emerge to replace McCarthy and that talks have been going on to recruit a replacement. But so far, it seems they have no serious contender to put forward after Biggs lost his symbolic challenge to McCarthy in the House GOP leadership vote last month.
“There’s quiet talks going on with other candidates,” Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) recently claimed. “But as you might imagine, those candidates are going to be very hesitant or reluctant to be in any way public.”
So far five MAGA-infused conservative Freedom Caucus members — including Biggs, Good, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) — have publicly said they will not support McCarthy’s speakership bid.
But despite the pushback from some members of his caucus, McCarthy has been in campaign mode for weeks, trying to make sure he has the 218 votes he will need to secure his role as speaker in January.
While there’s been lots of talk of opposition to McCarthy’s bid, the five detractors haven’t engaged seriously on offering up a viable alternative. Earlier last month, conservative Republicans even went as far as to suggest that their nominee for speaker might not even be a sitting member of Congress.
If McCarthy loses more than four Republican votes in the election scheduled for January 3, he will likely fall under the 218 votes he needs to become the new House leader.
But McCarthy insists he has the votes. And the California Republican repeatedly indicated that he will do whatever it takes for him to become speaker, including forcing a floor vote — or multiple floor votes — if needed, according to Punchbowl News and CNN.
Republicans who have already shown public support for McCarthy are calling his conservative challengers’ bluff.
“You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and there’s nobody else running,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD). “Even if there was another announced candidate, that person would not be better positioned to get 218 than Kevin.”
“Maybe they’re just trying to promote themselves a little bit?” said Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN) of the conservative caucus members who are challenging McCarthy’s bid. “I’m voting for Kevin McCarthy. He’s gonna win,” he added.
McCarthy also recently dared the Freedom Caucus members to keep up the act in an appearance on Newsmax, saying that Democrats could end up picking the next speaker if House Republicans don’t come together.
“We have to speak as one voice. We will only be successful if we work together, or we’ll lose individually. This is very fragile — that we are the only stopgap for this Biden administration,” McCarthy said on Newsmax. “And if we don’t do this right, the Democrats can take the majority. If we play games on the floor, the Democrats can end up picking who the Speaker is.”