The fight for speakership has House Republicans squirming, as Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) loyalists and the MAGA-infused Freedom Caucus clash over McCarthy’s speakership bid. And now, one of McCarthy’s most ardent supporters is not entirely shutting down questions about being a possible backup should McCarthy fail.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the No. 2 House Republican, told CNN’s Manu Raju that he wouldn’t speculate on the possibility that he could emerge as a candidate for speaker next year if McCarthy failed to get the 218 votes he needs to secure the top gig. But he didn’t deny it either.
“I’m not going to get into speculation,” Scalise said. “Obviously our focus is on getting it resolved by January 3. And there’s a lot of conversations that everybody has been having.”
Scalise is very supportive of McCarthy. And he told Punchbowl News on Tuesday that he thinks McCarthy will wrangle enough votes to become the next speaker of the House. But the question of what happens if McCarthy fails is a valid one that’s creating chatter among Republicans as other names are floated — including Scalise and right-wing conservative Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ).
Biggs officially announced his bid for speakership again on Tuesday. This is his second attempt to pull support from McCarthy after his symbolic challenge in the GOP leadership elections failed.
“I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs wrote in a Twitter post Tuesday. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”
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.
So far five conservative members — Biggs, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), 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 up until Tuesday, the small but mighty chorus of MAGA-aligned detractors had no viable alternative to McCarthy.
It is not clear if the far-right members opposing McCarthy would be willing to vote for Scalise should McCarthy fail, when they have one of their own, Biggs, running for speakership.
Bigg’s speakership announcement came days after McCarthy played the slim majority card and said the Freedom Caucus holdouts opposing his speakership bid could squander the small majority House Republicans have if they don’t come together with the rest of the party and support him.
Last week McCarthy also warned 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.”
Biggs shut down that idea. “If members from either part cross the aisle during this vote, it would be political suicide for them,” Biggs said on Twitter.