House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., laughed when asked by a reporter Tuesday about the assumption that Steve Scalise had become House Speaker.
When he was cornered, reporters peppered McCarthy with questions as he tried to cobble together a narrow GOP House majority to become the next Speaker.
“We’re going to have a good day,” he said, when a reporter asked if he still had votes.
Then NBC’s Ali Vitali asked, “Sir, if you fail, will you support Steve Scalise for speaker?” McCarthy laughed and didn’t answer as he passed.
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Republicans have 222 seats for a four-seat majority in the new chamber, while McCarthy needs 218 votes to claim the majority and the speakership. That means he can only lose four Republican primary elections, and some hardliners in the party still refuse to support him.
Scalise, Minority Whip and the GOP’s second most powerful lawmaker could emerge as a widely accepted conservative alternative. But he says he supports McCarthy, and some California supporters say they don’t support a “no-spend” vote for Scalise. There is even talk of MPs running to get someone from outside the House, as the Speaker need not be a legislator.
McCarthy has served as House Minority Leader for the past four years, but has long been viewed with skepticism by the chamber’s most conservative members.
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It was members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus that led to his resignation in 2015, when he was expected to succeed John Boehner as speaker. They saw McCarthy as a politician whose heart belonged to the Washington establishment, a ruling elite opposed to decades of conservative efforts to stop the relentless expansion of the federal government. It is lawmakers from that caucus who are barring the door squarely on McCarthy’s rise to power, despite years of efforts by the Californian to prove he is one of them.
The development of events on Tuesday can develop in different ways: from an orderly coronation, to a circus, to complete chaos. If the anti-McCarthy conservatives were bluffing and simply saving all the concessions they could get until the last minute, including the right of any member to force a vote to remove the speaker at any time, they would and McCarthy. strive for victory. Rather, they could make their point by denying him the speakership on the first vote or two, and give him some dyspepsia before giving up on the next vote.
Some Republicans are threatening to join the Democrats unless McCarthy wins and elects a “moderate.” McCarthy’s allies raised the possibility that Democratic nominee Hakeem Jeffries would take the majority of the vote and Republicans would swallow theirs.
Nancy Pelosi’s second term as speaker of the House of Representatives has come to an end as Republicans won the House in November’s midterm elections, despite the expected result. He served four years in office from 2007 to 2011 and from 2019 to 2023.
Fox News’ Keith Koffler contributed to this report.