Slim GOP majority may be a setback for McCarthy

Although former President Donald Trump has endorsed McCarthy’s bid to be speaker, some Republican hardliners could look for an alternativ­e

- Sarah Elbeshbish­i and Ledyard King

It was supposed to be a coronation of sorts for Kevin McCarthy: The California Republican would ride a red wave in November to the speakershi­p of the House, a post he has pursued for years.

But a dismal Republican showing in the midterm elections have complicate­d his path.

And when GOP lawmakers gather this week to begin choosing their leadership for the next Congress, McCarthy could find the going rocky – especially from his right flank.

Most forecasts indicate the GOP will win at least 218 seats, the minimum needed for a majority in the 435seat chamber – but it will be far fewer than the 30- to 50-seat margin predicted only weeks ago. About 20 races remained undecided as of Sunday night, with Republican­s having secured 212 seats and Democrats 203.

Republican­s could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to keep McCarthy as their leader during the party’s organizati­onal conference in preparatio­n for the next congressio­nal session.

McCarthy, GOP leader since 2019, officially announced his intention to run for the post in a letter to his colleagues Wednesday as he seeks to consolidat­e support from the members of his caucus.

“I am determined to ensure that this majority reaches its full potential,” McCarthy said in his letter. “I will be a listener every bit as much as a Speaker, striving to build consensus from the bottom-up rather than commanding the agenda from the top-down.”

Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, RAriz., a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, is among the potential obstacles McCarthy faces in his path to speaker. Biggs thinks the GOP caucus should have a “good discussion” on whether McCarthy should assume the role, citing the under performanc­e by Republican candidates as something to consider.

“I don’t understand why this is just a foregone conclusion,” Briggs told conservati­ve streaming program “The Absolute Truth With Emerald Robinson”

on Wednesday. “I think we need to have a real discussion and see how people respond to the ultimate results of this election and get a feel for his agenda and what he thinks he’s going to accomplish.”

McCarthy ‘has not done anything to earn my vote’

“I have personally stated that Kevin McCarthy has not done anything to earn my vote,” another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, told NBC last week.

“There’s many times where we have come to … the minority leader over the last two years and asked him to fight on various opportunit­ies and various issues and I have not seen the demonstrat­ed fight that we’re looking for, for those who would aspire to lead us. And so I expect there would be a challenge to him as a speaker candidate.”

Even if McCarthy does get his caucus’ approval this week, nothing is official until Jan. 3, when the newly installed House votes on the next speaker, who controls the legislativ­e agenda and wields considerab­le power in determinin­g who runs committees. That would gives his critics several weeks to find someone else.

But no rival has emerged yet to take on McCarthy, who has won former President Donald Trump’s endorsemen­t for the job and cultivated good relations with centrists in his caucus. Texas GOP Rep. Troy Nehls, another Freedom Caucus member, expects McCarthy to secure the gavel in January.

‘It’s a done deal’ that McCarthy will be speaker

“Kevin McCarthy will be the speaker of the House. It’s done. It’s a done deal,” Nehls told USA TODAY Friday. “Let’s just move forward.”

With the GOP’s slim majority, friction among the party’s factions is not unexpected. However, McCarthy’s efforts to develop and maintain a relationsh­ip with key members of the party’s staunchly conservati­ve Freedom Caucus – primarily founding member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio after he challenged McCarthy for his role as minority leader in 2018 – seem to better McCarthy’s chances.

McCarthy also has promised to reinstate hard-right firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene to congressio­nal committees after Democrats stripped her of her assignment­s last year after she espoused multiple dangerous conspiracy theories.

Yet even Nehls acknowledg­ed that the narrower-than expected majority could complicate McCarthy’s ability to pull together the diverse and demanding caucus.

“I mean, obviously, the Freedom Caucus is going to play a significan­t role here,” the Texas Republican said. “But obviously, with these narrow margins, Speaker McCarthy is going to have to work with us. He’s going to have to work with us otherwise, there’s going to be some roadblocks there.”

As McCarthy sought the support of his colleagues, he also took the opportunit­y to take a dig at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In his letter to GOP colleagues, McCarthy promised he would restore Congress to its “proper role as the primary lawmaking authority” by reopening the Capitol, end proxy voting and remote working – measures Pelosi took in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Narrow GOP majority ‘makes a weak speaker’

Speaking on CNN Sunday, Pelosi was asked whether McCarthy has what it takes to become speaker.

“No, I don’t think he has it,” she said. “But that’s up to his own people to make a decision as to how they want to be led or otherwise.”

Brendan Buck, an aide to the two previous GOP speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, said the narrow margin will handicap the next leader, whether it’s McCarthy or someone else.

“Being Republican speaker of the House is almost impossible to begin with. With a (thin) majority, that means every member has leverage over the speaker of the House. That’s what they’re trying to assert: ‘If you want to be speaker, you have to do things the way I want things done’,” Buck said Sunday on “Face the Nation With Margaret Brennan.”

“And that makes a weak speaker. Each one doesn’t care about leadership. They get a lot of power – a rank and file Republican gets a lot of their power by attacking leadership. And it plays to the base and the grassroots.”

 ?? SARAH SILBIGER/GETTY IMAGES ?? House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., delivers remarks alongside Ronna Romney McDaniel, Republican National Committee chair, and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., at a watch party in Washington, DC.
SARAH SILBIGER/GETTY IMAGES House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., delivers remarks alongside Ronna Romney McDaniel, Republican National Committee chair, and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., at a watch party in Washington, DC.

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