Republicans give McCarthy time to strike deal with House Freedom Caucus before final speakership vote

Top Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker, giving the Californian time to strike a deal with the Freedom Caucus before an official vote in January.

McCarthy won the GOP designation for House speaker Tuesday after a last-minute challenge from Rep. Andy Biggs, a former chairman of the Freedom Caucus. The California Republican bested Biggs, R-Ariz., by a 188-31 vote.

Despite the large margin of victory, McCarthy will have to sway nearly all of Biggs’ supporters to win the speaker’s gavel on the House floor in January. Officially, 218 votes are needed to elect a speaker if all 435 House members are present and voting.

“One hundred eighty-eight is a long way from 218,” said Rep. Bob Good, a Virginia Republican and Freedom Caucus member. “I think this just opens up the opportunity for anyone interested to let us know what their vision is to fight for the things that matter most for the American people.”


McCarthy won the GOP designation for House speaker on Tuesday after a last-minute challenge from Rep. Andy Biggs.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

At the moment, a challenge from a credible alternative appears unlikely to materialize. Although Biggs could opt to continue his campaign, the lawmaker lacks sufficient support across the GOP conference to become speaker.

Others capable of putting together a diverse and wide GOP coalition for speaker are sticking by McCarthy. Incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has been floated as a potential consensus candidate for speaker, said Tuesday he was excited to work with McCarthy on implementing Republican priorities.


“We’re ready to go to work for all those hard-working families across the country, and the person that’s going to lead the way is our next speaker, Kevin McCarthy,” said Scalise.

House Republican Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson, who has similarly been floated by Freedom Caucus members as a viable alternative, is also lined up behind McCarthy.

Although Biggs could opt to continue his campaign, the lawmaker lacks sufficient support across the GOP conference to become speaker.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Likewise, former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, who is viewed by some conservative Republicans as an ideal candidate for speaker, is backing McCarthy. Jordan, R-Ohio, even nominated McCarthy during Tuesday’s GOP conference vote designating the speaker. Jordan is expected to lead the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

A senior aide to GOP leadership said top Republicans are giving McCarthy time to work out a deal with the Freedom Caucus.

“At this point, he’s the nominee for speaker,” said the aide. “It’s on McCarthy to make something work. If he can’t, then others will pounce.”

History and the nearly two-month time span between the new Congress taking session in January is partially a reason. Other House speakers, including Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican Paul Ryan, ascended to the top spot even after garnering opposition from party members during the internal designation process.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., left, speaks at a news conference in front of House Republicans after Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrived for a closed-door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“If you look at the last two speakers, Paul Ryan, he lost 43 votes, Nancy Pelosi [lost] 32 votes, and no one was running against her,” said McCarthy. “We have our work cut out for us. We’ve got a small majority, we need to listen to everyone in our conference.”

McCarthy allies say that, with two months until the official speaker vote on the House floor, there is plenty of time to strike a deal with conservative hardliners. Adding to the impetus for a deal is that some members of the Freedom Caucus appear keen to strike deal if given a concession from McCarthy on House rules.

Among the Freedom Caucuses’ demands are restoring the power to remove a speaker by a vote that could be called at any time ensuring a floor vote on any amendment if 10% of the GOP conference cosponsors it and reinstating a “majority of the majority” rule under which bills would only advance when supported by most GOP members.


The Freedom Caucus is also pushing for House committees to elect their own chairman, rather than the current process in which the leadership-stacked GOP steering committee is tasked with the responsibility.

“I think anyone who wants to be the speaker ought to embrace those rule changes,” said Rep. Good.