The opening day of the 118th Congress is poised to feature a historic fight on the House floor over who will serve as speaker under new Republican leadership that will end one-party rule and the Democratic agenda.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the chamber’s Republican leader, said he is ready to govern a House that will put the brakes on President Biden’s agenda and hold the government accountable under Republican-controlled committee investigations. He is even weighing the impeachment of top Biden administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats will keep control of the majority with 51 votes, but with the House in Republican hands, it will be relegated to confirming Mr. Biden’s administrative and judicial appointments.
The Republican takeover of the House majority may be chaotic.
Mr. McCarthy is not guaranteed to secure enough Republican votes to win the speaker’s gavel in a floor vote.
He has been negotiating with a small faction of rank-and-file conservatives who have flat-out refused to support him, putting his quest for the speakership in peril. As 2022 came to a close, Mr. McCarthy was negotiating with conservatives to change House rules in exchange for their support.
SEE ALSO: Nine more House Republicans call McCarthy’s concessions insufficient
Just days before the floor vote, Mr. McCarthy’s efforts were coming up short. Nine Republican lawmakers on the fence about Mr. McCarthy said Sunday that his concessions were insufficient.
The lawmakers, led by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, said the majority needs a “radical departure from the status quo” that Mr. McCarthy represents.
Those negotiations were heating up Monday.
Other House speakers have been elected without unanimous support from their parties, including Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California and Republicans Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and John A. Boehner of Ohio. Now, House Republicans will govern with a minuscule majority of five seats, which means a handful of rank-and-file lawmakers could thwart Mr. McCarthy’s election.
Republicans on Capitol Hill describe Mr. McCarthy’s chances of securing the votes as “a coin flip.” One called the negotiations “a mess” and said “it’s almost like McCarthy’s waiting to cut the deal until the last moment, which is not wise.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, is leading the five lawmakers who say they are a hard no against Mr. McCarthy. He recently told Fox News that neither Mr. McCarthy nor any other Republican had secured the 218 votes needed to win the speaker’s gavel if all seated lawmakers vote for a candidate on Tuesday.
SEE ALSO: Newt Gingrich slams Kevin McCarthy’s detractors as ‘kamikazes’ attempting to sink GOP
“Maybe it will take a few ballots to shake that out,” Mr. Biggs said.
A House speaker’s election has not required multiple ballots in 100 years.
House historians have recorded 14 instances, many of them in the years after the Civil War, in which the speaker election required multiple ballots. The last time was at the start of the 68th Congress in 1923, when Frederick Huntington Gillett, Massachusetts Republican, was elected on the ninth ballot.
The five holdouts against Mr. McCarthy demanded significant changes to the House rules that would take power away from the speaker and give more governing authority to the committees and rank-and-file lawmakers.
One demand would require the reinstatement of a rule that would allow lawmakers a vote to replace the House speaker mid-Congress.
Mr. McCarthy has been reluctant to negotiate with the five holdouts out of concern that it will embolden the group to make more demands. As of Friday, he was willing to agree to a rules change that would lower the threshold required for a motion to eject the speaker. Conservatives want that rule to give them leverage over Mr. McCarthy if he does not govern to their liking.
Mrs. Pelosi made it harder for a lawmaker to bring up a motion to oust a sitting speaker after conservatives used the threat of it to push Mr. Boehner into retirement.
Mr. McCarthy, meanwhile, has garnered the loyal support of House Republican moderates who have pledged to vote only for him, no matter how many ballots it takes to elect him as speaker.
In a letter sent Friday to the Republican conference, members of the Main Street Caucus, led by Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Stephanie I. Bice of Oklahoma, wrote that they believe Mr. McCarthy is the best candidate for House speaker, “and we are prepared to vote for him as long as it takes.”
The centrist lawmakers said they oppose the rules change that would allow lawmakers to more easily eject the speaker mid-Congress and pledged to reject any rules changes proposed by conservatives “if Kevin McCarthy is not expediently elected as speaker of the House on Jan. 3.”
Some Republicans have suggested the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, could become a viable alternative if the votes never materialize for Mr. McCarthy. Mr. Scalise is poised to serve as majority leader and said he backs Mr. McCarthy for speaker.
The Republican holdouts could decide to vote “present,” which would not count against Mr. McCarthy and would lower the majority needed to win the speaker’s gavel.
An aide close to one of the five holdouts told The Washington Times that voting present is “frowned upon … but it’s definitely an option.”