As recently as Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was optimistic, not just about his party’s prospects in the midterm elections, but also about his own personal ambitions on Capitol Hill. “I’ll believe we’ll have the votes for speaker, yes,” the California Republican told CNN.
Two days later, McCarthy scheduled a victory party, which would presumably help elevate him to Congress’ top office. That didn’t quite work out: The GOP leader delivered brief remarks in the middle of the night to a thin group of disappointed supporters. The ballroom was described as a “ghost town.”
“When you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority,” McCarthy said in comments that proved to be about as reliable as his prediction a year earlier that Republicans would flip as many as 60 votes on Election Day 2022.
Twelve hours later, as my MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown wrote, the GOP leader made a different kind of announcement.
The House is still too close to call but Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is feeling good about the odds. So good that this morning he sent out a letter to his caucus officially announcing his bid to become the next speaker of the House.
For now, let’s put aside the fact that the outcome in the chamber remains uncertain. It’s at least possible — not likely, but possible — that Democrats will somehow eke out a House majority, at which point McCarthy’s campaign for the gavel would be irrelevant.
Instead, let’s say for the sake of conversation that Republicans will come out on top, will retake the chamber, and the new House majority will soon choose a new speaker. McCarthy’s the inevitable choice, right?
Maybe, but his odds aren’t nearly as good as they appeared a few days ago.
The good news for McCarthy is that he doesn’t appear to have a rival, at least as of this morning. It’ll be easy for him to win if he doesn’t have an opponent.
The bad news for McCarthy is that while he may not have an intraparty challenger, he does have Republican detractors who are not at all eager to simply hand him the gavel he so desperately craves.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, for example, is reportedly making calls to colleagues, making the case against McCarthy. Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, was even more public about his skepticism. “I would say maybe not so fast,” the Arizonan said yesterday when asked about McCarthy’s rise.
A Fox News reporter quoted a Republican source yesterday who said, “Knives are out for Kevin McCarthy.”
It’s possible that this intrigue will fizzle and the leadership race proves uninteresting, but the drama is a reminder of just how ungovernable a GOP-led House will be over the next couple of years. There’s also the related question of what McCarthy is prepared to do to get the job he wants. CNN reported late yesterday:
A source familiar with the House Freedom Caucus’ deliberations told CNN on Wednesday morning that there are around two dozen current and incoming members who are willing to vote against McCarthy if he doesn’t offer them concessions. They are actively discussing putting up a nominal challenger to face McCarthy in next week’s leadership elections in an effort to force the GOP leader to give them more influence in how the House operates, the source said.
For his part, McCarthy reportedly held a series of meetings yesterday, including one with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Asked if she’d support McCarthy for speaker, the right-wing Georgian said: “No comment.”