Just the Facts

Five Facts on Kevin McCarthy's Bid for Speaker of the House

By Emma Petasis
August 15, 2018 | Blog

On April 11, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement that he would be retiring in January 2019 immediately sparked speculation about who would succeed him.  While the most important factor in determining the next speaker will be which party takes control of the House after November’s midterm elections, aspiring leaders in both parties are already working to shore up support. On the Republican side, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current majority leader and Speaker Ryan’s top deputy is seen as the heavy favorite.  Here are five facts on Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House.

 

Kevin McCarthy was the favorite to succeed former Speaker John Boehner following his retirement in 2015 

McCarthy had served as the number two Republican since 2014, and it was expected he would continue his progression up the ranks of the Republican Party.  However, the conservative House Freedom Caucus threw its support behind Florida Rep. Dan Webster, and with a last-minute candidacy from Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, McCarthy withdrew on the premise that he did not want a contentious vote to fracture the party. In addition, McCarthy had come under fire during the speaker race for controversial comments about the House Benghazi investigation, when he suggested it was a political tactic to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as opposed to a good faith investigation. His withdrawal left an opening in the speaker race and ultimately resulted in the election of Paul Ryan.

 

In an interview with NBC, current House Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed McCarthy to succeed him

Just a few days after Ryan announced his retirement he expressed his support for McCarthy, stating “I think we all believe that Kevin is the right person.” Ryan said McCarthy’s work to support Republican principles over the last several years would help McCarthy garner the support he lacked when he ran in 2015. “What’s changed is we came together as a team in 2015 … this conference has been unified, and we’ve actually moved the ball and gotten things done.” Ryan went on to state, “I think Kevin’s the right guy to step up.”

 

Just as in 2015, McCarthy is facing a challenge from the Freedom Caucus

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are once again expected to oppose McCarthy’s election on the grounds that he is too moderate. In March, Jim Jordan (R-OH) announced he is considering running for speaker himself, guaranteeing that McCarthy will lose the vote of hardline conservatives in the Freedom Caucus. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, (R-LA) a more conservative member of Republican leadership, has also expressed interest in the position, but has stated that he would not run against McCarthy. Top aides for Scalise have stated that “When the Speaker’s race is called he’ll be supporting McCarthy,” but told CNN that Scalise plans to be ready if it seems McCarthy won’t have sufficient votes to win.

 

Most lawmakers and analysts on Capitol Hill believe that McCarthy doesn’t have enough votes to secure the nomination yet

Rep Mark Amodei (R-NV) said that although he liked and “worked great” with McCarthy, he couldn’t commit to support him at the time. Amodei stated that he wants the next speaker to provide him with a plan of how he or she will change the way the House works before he agrees to cast his vote for that person. Amodei also explained that House members were currently focused on their own primary elections and probably hadn’t given much thought to who they would elect speaker yet. In April it was reported that McCarthy asked Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) for his support but did not receive a guarantee.  In recent weeks, Meadows has made his intentions clear, tweeting that he “fully support[s]” fellow Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan’s bid for speaker.

 

Assuming Republicans maintain control of the House, McCarthy would need a simple majority of the Republican conference to win the nomination for the speakership

For example, if Republicans were to maintain 225 seats in the House — a slim majority — McCarthy would need to win 113 votes.  However, in order to win election in the full House, McCarthy would need to once again win a simple majority of 218 votes.  This means that a contentious speaker election within the Republican conference could throw the general vote into chaos, as no Democrats would be expected to vote for a Republican and only a handful of Republican defections could derail McCarthy’s bid.

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