Kevin McCarthy says he’s open to being speaker again. But his path is even more obstructed than before.
While the crisis in Israel has undoubtedly injected urgency to the House’s leadership vacuum, Republicans see little chance the former speaker can win back favor from the handful of hardliners who ousted him less than a week ago.
“I can’t imagine any of us backing up on this,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the Republicans who voted to oust the speaker.
McCarthy’s conservative critics are envisioning a future without him, now that their longtime ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is running for speaker in a two-man race against Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.). Even some long-time McCarthy supporters have already endorsed a possible successor.
Still, there’s a contingency of the House GOP that is unhappy with either choice. And some of them are using the attack in Israel to argue that McCarthy should be back at the helm. Others are wondering if the head-to-head speaker matchup slated this week — should it fail to find a consensus candidate who can reach 218 votes on the floor — will create an opening for others they find more palatable. One possibility being floated is putting interim Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) in the job permanently.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), a McCarthy supporter, told reporters on Monday that he wants to see the former speaker take back the gavel: “I believe he is the right person to lead.”
The GOP’s speaker contest will formally kick off Monday night, as the House GOP conference huddles for the first of several closed-door meetings to elect their next leader.
Scalise and Jordan, the House Judiciary chair, will deliver their pitches to fellow Republicans over the next two days. Over the past several days, both men scrambled to meet with and pitch various factions of Republicans on their candidacies. The full GOP conference is expected to vote by secret ballot on Wednesday, with a House-wide vote planned soon after, though many concede the internal deliberations could drag on far longer.
But with just a four-seat majority, it’s an open question whether Scalise or Jordan can win support from the conference and then, more importantly, land the 218 votes needed on the floor.
The GOP conference vote currently only requires a simple majority. But a group of House Republicans are pushing to change the rules at least temporarily to require the named speaker-nominee to have the needed 218 support before coming to the House floor.
Scalise allies, however, view the effort as an attempt to undermine the Louisiana Republican, with multiple vowing to oppose it. But other Republicans argue it is an attempt to avoid a public embarrassment like they suffered in January, when Republicans had to go through 14 rounds of floor votes before McCarthy prevailed.
Some are already preparing for multiple rounds, all the same.
McCarthy, meanwhile, is making clear he will not leave quietly. The California Republican gave a roughly 30-minute press conference at the Capitol on Monday, where he stressed the inability of the House to take legislative action — including responding to the attacks in Israel.
“Unfortunately, the House can do nothing without a speaker,” McCarthy said.
Other Republicans have voiced similar concerns about the appearance of a weakened House, particularly when it comes to matters of foreign policy.
“What I don’t want to see is that the stalemate in the House or the lack of leadership in the White House results in a larger conflict” in the Middle East, said Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa.).
He stressed that the GOP needed to move to approve a new speaker immediately: “It’s essential.”
There’s another wild card in the race: A faction of the House GOP is vowing not to support any candidate without reforms being made to the motion to vacate. They insist that they must prevent another scenario in which only one member can trigger an attempt to unseat the speaker — as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) did when he helped topple McCarthy against the will of a strong majority of House Republicans.
Some Republicans who demanded that rule change in January, however, now appear willing to ditch the fight. But only if they can get the speakership candidate they want, a pivot not lost on McCarthy supporters.
“I also will support a material change to the motion to vacate the chair,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said when announcing his support of Jordan. “To be sure, all of this represents a sharp departure for me and a large bet on Jim Jordan’s essential character. It’s a bet I’ll take all day long.”
Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.
Kevin McCarthy says he’s open to having his job back, but some House Republicans have already moved on.