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Kevin McCarthy Selected as GOP’s House Speaker Candidate, but Faces Hurdles Ahead to Formally Secure Position

Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy has officially been nominated for speaker of the House by the GOP, putting him on the path to face a Democrat for the role in January.

In a closed-door vote on Tuesday, McCarthy was nominated by a majority of members from his party, earning 188 out of 219 votes. When the new House convenes in January, though, he will need 218 supporters to win the speakership — which may prove an uphill battle at a time of party infighting.

McCarthy, 57, was initially presumed to take over current Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s position in January. But after a red wave failed to materialize in last week’s midterm elections, the California Republican now finds himself in a tougher-than-expected campaign for the gig that most top-ranking party officials are easily handed.

McCarthy’s nomination was challenged by Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, who only earned 31 votes. Biggs attempted to talk representatives out of supporting McCarthy on Monday night, speaking of a “new paradigm” among Republicans.

“We have a new paradigm here, and I think the country wants a different direction from the House of Representatives. And it’s a new world, and, yes, I’m going to be nominated tomorrow to — to the position of Speaker of the House,” Biggs said.

Biggs’ challenge, while unsuccessful, demonstrates what some say is a fracture in the GOP, highlighted by the results of last week’s midterm elections. Many have pointed fingers at McCarthy over the GOP’s lackluster performance in the midterms, while some of the far-right members of the House stir division in hopes of earning a seat at the table.

Biggs’ nomination also raises questions about how McCarthy will woo Biggs’ supporters before January, in order to ensure he is formally elected when the entire House votes.

At least one of the House’s most right-wing members — Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — was initially expected to push back against McCarthy’s nomination. But on Monday, Greene said she was backing the more moderate McCarthy, leading some to speculate exactly how that endorsement would pay dividends for Greene, a controversial lawmaker and Trump loyalist.

As Axios reported, “Greene’s defense of McCarthy at a time when he’s so vulnerable will be richly rewarded if he becomes speaker — likely with a plum position on the powerful House Oversight Committee.”

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Republicans are currently poised to control the House by a razor-thin margin if they take the majority as projected, but they will still need every single member of the party to align their votes behind a nominee for speaker.

McCarthy’s vulnerability could require him to concede to the demands of the far-right wing of the party, which has called for everything from impeachment hearings for top Democratic officials like President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, to a probe of infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Some of the biggest Republican names have backed McCarthy, including former President Donald Trump, but others have publicly voiced their concerns, leading some to speculate that a fracture among Republicans could offer a window for an altogether different nominee.

On Sunday, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said in an interview on Face the Nation that if Republicans win the House, the party’s right-wing faction could nominate former President Donald Trump over McCarthy.

“And they might just vote for Trump, when they, you know, take the roll call for speaker,” Raskin said. “So, we know that the hard right Freedom Caucus people are in search of another candidate and one potential candidate whose name has been floated is Donald Trump himself, because the speaker of the House does not have to be a member of the House. And they are talking about putting Trump right there.”

While it’s unclear if there have been any serious conversations about nominating Trump for the role, some Republican members of the House are making one thing clear: McCarthy has his work cut out for him.

As Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said of the party nominee, “McCarthy does not have 218 votes to become speaker,” adding: “I don’t think he has 200,” per a CNN report.