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Freedom Caucus' Biggs to challenge McCarthy for speaker’s gavel

“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” Kevin McCarthy's allies have argued in the House speaker's race. As of today, however, there's somebody: Andy Biggs.


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has struggled to secure the Republican support he’ll need to become House speaker, but his Capitol Hill allies have downplayed the significance of the intra-party drama. In fact, they’ve embraced a specific phrase that’s been repeated quite a bit lately.

“You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and there’s nobody else running,” Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota said last week. “You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” Republican Rep. David Joyce of Ohio added over the weekend.

McCarthy’s allies weren’t wrong about that. Without a named rival, the California Republican could go to his members and effectively declare that he was their only choice. Today, however, as NBC News reported, the minority leader learned that Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona — the former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus — is now running against him.

“I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs tweeted, linking to an op-ed in the conservative Daily Caller outlining his opposition to McCarthy. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”

If a McCarthy-vs.-Biggs race sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. It was just a few weeks ago when the House Republican conference voted on its choice for House speaker, and the far-right Arizonan launched a challenge against the incumbent minority leader. It wasn’t exactly a close contest: McCarthy was easily nominated as the conference’s choice, and the final tally was 188 to 31.

That made McCarthy the official GOP pick for the speaker’s gavel, but individual members will still have an opportunity to vote how they please when the new Congress takes office early next year. The current Republican leader won’t need each of the 31 members who supported Biggs, but he will need the vast majority of them to lock down a majority of the chamber.

It’s against this backdrop that Biggs wants those same members to know they have a choice if they don’t want McCarthy: They can vote for him instead.

Realistically, the odds of Biggs actually becoming House speaker are effectively non-existent. He knows that. His candidacy is less about earning the coveted gavel and more about creating an alternative on the House floor for McCarthy’s intra-party detractors, making it easier to deny the minority leader a majority.

If five House Republicans — including Biggs — vote for him, McCarthy won’t have the support he’ll need, at least on the first ballot. At that point, there’d likely be quite a bit of chaos in the chamber, with the prospect of multiple votes, for some undetermined period of time, until someone can piece together a majority.

That would throw the House into chaos, with possible repeated votes until someone emerges with enough support to be speaker.

And the longer that possible process plays out, the greater the odds that Democrats will work with some more moderate Republicans to pick a mainstream speaker.