We are now eight short days from Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives and it looks like the battle for the speaker’s gavel is waging on. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), current minority leader and the GOP’s official speaker candidate, is facing opposition from the right flank of his party, with a handful of the House Freedom Caucus members publicly expressing their dissent. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who challenged McCarthy and lost when the Republican caucus voted for their candidate last month, wrote earlier this month of his intention to challenge McCarthy once more when the full chamber votes for its new speaker in January.
Until now, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) had seemingly been allied with Biggs in opposing McCarthy, but he took to Twitter to throw a curveball, saying, “All I want for Christmas is Jim Jordan to realize he should be Speaker of the House!”
All I want for Christmas is @Jim_Jordan to realize he should be Speaker of the House!
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) December 24, 2022
It’s not clear if Gaetz was trying to further muddy the waters of the speaker’s race or if he, at this late date, is truly encouraging a run by Jordan, who was the first chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and is popular with the conservative grassroots. Jordan, who is busy preparing for his new role as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has not indicated a desire to be speaker and has, in fact, endorsed McCarthy. Jordan has also urged unity among his party, fearing that more moderate Republicans might work with the opposing party and make a Democrat the new speaker.
It’s a numbers game for Kevin McCarthy at this point; Republicans will hold a razor-thin 221-213 majority over Democrats (there’s a special election taking place in Virginia to replace the late Representative A. Donald McEachin) in the new Congress. McCarthy needs 218 votes to become the next speaker, but only received 188 votes when Republicans nominated him for the position, with Biggs garnering 31 votes. McCarthy will presumably pick up most of Biggs’ votes, but then there are those five members — Biggs himself, along with Gaetz, Ralph Norman (R-SC), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), and Bob Good (R-VA.) — who are vocally against McCarthy, with a few other members refusing to say publicly whom they are supporting.
Kevin McCarthy will presumably spend the next several days whipping up support and making concessions to win the votes he needs for next week’s contest. If he doesn’t get to that all-important 218 number, the roll call vote will be repeated until one of the candidates reaches the requisite votes. According to the Congressional Research Service, roll calls are taken repeatedly until there is a winner:
If no candidate receives the requisite majority of votes cast, the roll call is repeated. No restrictions are imposed on who may receive votes in the subsequent ballots. (For instance, no candidate is eliminated based on receiving the fewest votes in the floor election, and a Member’s vote is not limited to individuals who received votes in previous ballots.)
This might be what Matt Gaetz had in mind when putting Jim Jordan forward as a candidate, as the rules clearly provide an opening for an as-yet-unknown candidate to make a move for 218. Jordan is unlikely to be that candidate, but what about McCarthy’s current deputy, Steve Scalise (R-LA)? The Washington Times reported some Republican lawmakers have warned Scalise to “be prepared to step in if Mr. McCarthy cannot secure a simple majority when lawmakers in both parties vote for House speaker on the opening day of the 118th Congress.”
And it seems a Scalise speakership is appealing to some who oppose McCarthy, with an aide to one McCarthy opponent saying Scalise could “definitely” win and another Republican concluding, “If Kevin doesn’t get it, Scalise gets it easily.” For his part, Scalise has maintained his support for McCarthy.
The vote for the next Speaker of the House will take place on January 3, 2023.