A defiant Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed Tuesday to fight as long as it takes to win the Speaker’s gavel in the new Congress, challenging his Republican detractors with threats of a marathon process that would undermine Republicans politically just as they’re taking control of the lower chamber.
In a 90-minute closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, McCarthy gave an impassioned speech to the House GOP Conference, making the case that he’s earned the right to replace outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Kevin was about as fired [up] as I’ve ever seen him,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who predicted that “90 percent” of the room was strongly behind the Republican leader.
Yet McCarthy can afford only four dissenting votes from within the GOP conference, and his detractors say they have many more than that lined up to sink his speakership bid. The House will hold an election for Speaker this afternoon.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said there are “absolutely” enough votes to block McCarthy, at least on the first ballot. McCarthy’s entreaties, he said, swayed none of the detractors.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said.
“I’ll be voting for Biggs,” echoed Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), referring to Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who is also running for Speaker this week.
Yet McCarthy has remained undaunted, vowing to remain on the floor for as many ballots as it takes to wear down his opponents and win the gavel.
“I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor. I don’t have a problem getting a record for most votes for Speaker, too,” McCarthy said after the meeting.
Asked how long it will take to elect a Speaker, McCarthy said: “I think it might take a while.”
Wagner said that was the same message McCarthy had delivered behind closed doors moments earlier.
“He was not recessing. He was not reconvening. He was not standing down. He was going to stay and fight,” she said.
McCarthy allies cheered in support during the meeting, and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) reportedly floated denying committee assignments to those who do not vote for McCarthy.
Yet McCarthy’s math problem seemed to worsen on Tuesday morning, as some of the members who had been withholding support for McCarthy without revealing their final position said after the meeting that they will not vote for him on the floor.
“Kevin McCarthy is not the right candidate to be Speaker,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said in a statement.
“As it stands, I will not be voting for Kevin McCarthy,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) told reporters.
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said that McCarthy “lied” to members during his pitch, but would not specify about what.
McCarthy similarly fired back at his detractors, telling reporters that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said during the meeting, “I don’t care if we go to plurality and we elect Hakeem Jeffries.” Jeffries (D-N.Y) was elected last month as Democratic leader.
Gaetz — who said he will vote for Biggs Tuesday afternoon — also took a shot at McCarthy after the fiery meeting, admitting that he and Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) have a trust problem with the GOP leader.
“It is true that we struggle with trust with Mr. McCarthy because time and again his viewpoints, his positions, they shift like sands underneath you,” Gaetz told reporters, standing beside Perry and Boebert.
“Those of us who will not be voting for Kevin McCarthy today take no joy in this discomfort that this moment has brought, but if you want to drain the swamp, you cannot put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise,” he said at another point in his remarks. “I’m a Florida man and I know of what I speak.”
But even as the number of public opponents to McCarthy ticks up, the hard-right House Freedom Caucus remains divided on McCarthy’s Speakership, with high-profile members like Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) supporting McCarthy.
“The majority of the Freedom Caucus is voting for Kevin,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), who added that he will vote for McCarthy.
The chaos surrounding Tuesday’s Speaker vote has infuriated McCarthy’s supporters, who are eager to use their new House majority to get on with the business of taking on President Biden and his administration on a host of policy issues.
Some are turning their anger toward McCarthy’s critics, accusing them of disrupting the process without a viable alternative.
“When asked point blank what they wanted, they had no answer,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.).