After a strange midterm season, anything seems possible when it comes to the vacant House Speaker role.
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to elect a new leader on Jan. 3 as Republicans take control of the lower chamber.
But McCarthy faces opposition from inside the caucus, with five members saying they will not or likely will not vote for him on Tuesday in the general election, which features all members in the chamber casting votes.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and the other four members say McCarthy hasn’t performed well in the past as minority leader and will not institute changes they see as necessary if he assumes the speakership.
The group met with McCarthy on Monday to go over their concerns but came away dissatisfied.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said the group asked for a commitment to votes on specific bills, including legislation that would impose term limits on members. McCarthy refused to make that commitment, Perry said, and also dismissed a request that would require two-thirds support to pass earmarks and a separate request to not support candidates in open Republican primary races.
“Kevin McCarthy had an opportunity to be Speaker of the House. He rejected it,” Perry said in a statement.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), another holdout, told reporters that he still won’t vote for McCarthy.
McCarthy has projected confidence, telling reporters on Tuesday that “we’re going to have a good day today.”
To win the race, a candidate must receive a majority of votes.
McCarthy and his allies have warned that opposition to his bid could open the door to a Democrat becoming speaker.
Some Republicans could split from the caucus and back a candidate seen as moderate, including an anti-Donald Trump Republican such as former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the pro-McCarthy faction has argued. Combined with votes from Democrats, that candidate could end up with more votes than McCarthy.
“If we play games on the floor, the Democrats could end up picking who the speaker is,” McCarthy said during an appearance on Newsmax in 2021.
If there’s an alternative to McCarthy, that person will come from outside the House, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a McCarthy backer, said on CNN this week.
“We’re not even thinking that far, because I really do believe Kevin is going to get there,” Fitzpatrick said when asked for names.
Rep.-elect John James (R-Mich.) said on Fox on Tuesday that Republicans “squandered our majority” in 2016, referring to internal fractures in the party. James said that led to Democrats flipping the House in the 2018 election.
“We need to work together. We need to figure this out. We need to run the country” James said. “Normal America, like folks back in my district, don’t care about your personality conflicts. They care about their jobs going to Mexico and China and they want to know there’s a commitment to America being satisfied to bring those jobs back. They don’t care about your purity tests. They care about fentanyl poisoning. They care about securing our border.”
Republicans will hold a slim majority with 222 seats in the 435-member chamber in the 118th Congress. The GOP flipped about a dozen seats in the midterm elections.
If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the speaker’s election, voting will go to a second round. More rounds could take place if no candidate achieves a majority. A recess can be called as negotiations occur.
The House was slated to open its first session of the new Congress at noon.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the last speaker, announced in late 2021 she would not seek another two years in leadership. Pelosi is remaining in office.
Every speaker race since 1923 has been settled on the first ballot.
That year, it took nine ballots to select Rep. Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) as speaker.
Multiple ballots have also been required in 13 other races, including 133 ballots and two months of voting in the 1855 race.