Daily Press (Sunday)

Post-McCarthy challenges for GOP

Fundraisin­g, votes at stake for tiny House majority

- By Robert Jimison

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announceme­nt that he would leave Congress came as little surprise to his closest colleagues, but his decision to do so a year before the end of his term poses challenges for his party. It will shrink Republican­s’ razorthin majority in the House as they face a number of issues in the coming months that will require near-unanimous party support.

The departure of the California­n, who was his party’s strongest fundraiser in the House and spent two election cycles helping to build the Republican majority, also could put a dent in the GOP’s ability to rake in campaign cash, although he has said he wants to continue to play a role in politics.

Long before the events of last week, Republican­s acknowledg­ed at the start of the year that one of their biggest challenges would be keeping their party unified as their midterm victories delivered a tiny majority. They had 222 members while Democrats had 213, leaving little room for defectors and making it easier for a small number of disgruntle­d Republican­s to influence policy and vote outcomes.

They could afford to lose no more than four votes on any bill if all Democrats showed up and voted against them. Any more than that would doom GOP legislatio­n.

With the Dec. 1 expulsion of George Santos of New York, Republican­s have only 221 members, meaning their four-vote margin has shrunk to three. Any more defections than that would result in a 217-217 tie or give the Democratic side more votes

than the Republican one.

With McCarthy gone, Republican­s will enter the new year with 220 votes, leaving the same margin since they could still lose three votes and be ahead of Democrats, 217-216.

A special election for Santos’ seat is set for Feb. 13, and Democrats hope to recapture the politicall­y competitiv­e district, which President Joe Biden won in 2020. That would further erode the Republican­s’ edge.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California will have 14 days after McCarthy’s final day to call a special election, which must take place about four months later. The Bakersfiel­d-anchored district is solidly Republican, meaning that a GOP candidate is likely to win the race to serve out the remainder of his term. But that won’t happen

before mid-January, when lawmakers face the first of two deadlines for funding the government.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has struggled to push critical legislatio­n through the House, and a slimmer majority would probably empower the rebellious hard-right wing of his party to double down on its policy demands before the deadlines, the second of which is in early February.

The smaller majority could also affect the fight over an emergency national security spending bill to fund the war in Ukraine, along with money for border security and help for Israel in its war against Hamas.

On Wednesday, Republican­s blocked the measure in the Senate. The bill would face an uphill battle in the House, where Republican

support for Ukraine’s war effort is dwindling.

But it’s possible that McCarthy’s absence will be most acute beyond the Capitol as Republican­s will lose their best House fundraiser.

For years, he traveled to hundreds of districts across the country, bringing in millions of dollars in campaign cash for candidates and helping Republican­s win control of the House in 2022. He has said he planned to remain engaged in GOP politics.

“I will continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office,” McCarthy said in announcing his plans to leave the House in The Wall Street Journal. “The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next

generation of leaders.”

During his time as speaker, McCarthy brought in $78 million for his colleagues’ reelection efforts, more than 100 times the amount of money Johnson had collected before becoming speaker.

His support of new candidates will be aided by a campaign account with more than $10 million at his disposal. Even after leaving office, McCarthy can use the campaign funds to establish a political action committee or directly support other campaigns. He has signaled that he would like to play a substantia­l role, and many lawmakers and aides believe he may intervene in party primaries to target the far-right Republican­s who led the push to oust him from the speakershi­p.

Meanwhile, Republican­s are holding their breath for more exits.

More than three dozen incumbents from both parties in both chambers have said they will not seek reelection. If even a handful more House Republican­s leave in the coming months, it could wipe away their majority before a single vote is cast in the 2024 election. Another Republican, Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio, has announced that he will leave Congress in several months to become the president of Youngstown State University, although he has not said precisely when.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., one of McCarthy’s strongest allies, expressed her frustratio­n over the eroding majority in a post on social media, saying “Hopefully no one dies.”

 ?? HAIYUN JIANG/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters as he heads into a House Republican­s meeting Oct. 24.
HAIYUN JIANG/THE NEW YORK TIMES Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters as he heads into a House Republican­s meeting Oct. 24.

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