Could Kevin McCarthy’s Replacement be . . . Kevin McCarthy?

One of the worst movies in memory may be getting a sequel.

POLITICO (“McCarthy loyalists vow to draw out painful speakership battle“):

A bloc of Kevin McCarthy’s most vocal GOP supporters, many of them centrists, are vowing to nominate the former speaker to return to the job and support him for as long as they can.

Three House Republicans involved in the effort to return the gavel to McCarthy — which is flaring up just a week after his historic ejection — say they expect dozens of colleagues to initially vote for the Californian during this week’s internal conference debate over speaker candidates.

Their plans depend on whether McCarthy is nominated, as expected, and may prevent either of the declared candidates to replace him — Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio — from garnering a majority on the first ballot.

Many McCarthy supporters haven’t received instructions from the former speaker, such as an edict to stop their work on his behalf and throw their support behind Jordan. But some have back-channeled through Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), two close McCarthy allies, as they push for his reinstatement as speaker.

“I believe that Kevin McCarthy will allow himself to be put on the ballot,” said Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.), who is among the pro-McCarthy stalwarts.

Republican lawmakers are scheduled to meet Tuesday evening for another forum on the internal speakership election that’s expected to take place on Wednesday, though neither Scalise nor Jordan has the votes to win the speakership on the House floor — and, importantly, McCarthy does not have the votes he’d need either. That emotional limbo is particularly problematic for House Republicans who would otherwise welcome the chance to move quickly on helping Israel beat back weekend attacks by Hamas.

While the conference remains polarized, Duarte joined GOP Reps. Carlos Gimenez and John Rutherford of Florida in making their plans clear during a closed-door House GOP conference meeting Monday night, according to three GOP lawmakers.

Rutherford warned his fellow Republicans that he was prepared to keep voting for McCarthy over and over, suggesting that the former speaker’s still livid supporters are ready to hold out for some time in order to undercut the other candidates.

Some centrist House Republicans have raised concerns about electing Jordan, an original cofounder of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, as speaker. But McCarthy supporters are especially wary of Scalise, a longtime rival of the former speaker, taking over the conference.

“It is clear McCarthy supporters feel Scalise undermined him and left him when he needed his help,” said one centrist House Republican who was granted anonymity to discuss internal conference dynamics.

But supporters of the long-shot effort to reinstall McCarthy as speaker also know that no candidate, including their preferred choice, can win the job at this point.

POLITICO (“GOP holds emotional meeting on next speaker — but fails to unite on one“):

House Republicans huddled Monday for an emotional venting session over the party’s leadership crisis. But two days before a planned vote, they appear nowhere near uniting behind a new speaker.

Multiple GOP lawmakers described it as a mostly civil, yet cathartic, meeting ahead of an intense week in which House Republicans are slated to crown their next GOP leader. One member called it a “therapy session.” Yet some in the room made pointed comments at the eight members in their party responsible for ousting former Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week.

“There’s definitely frustration toward those eight people,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said after the two-plus hour meeting. “There were quite a few people who said they’re not ready to move forward.”

Republicans are facing steep pressure to choose their speaker quickly as the U.S. seeks to respond to the deadly attacks in Israel, as well as a looming government funding deadline next month. Several senior Republicans stood up to stress the urgency of various crises facing the U.S. — from the Israeli attacks to the border to inflation — as a plea for coming together as quickly as possible to elect a leader.

WaPo (“House Republicans brace for drawn-out speaker fight“):

Several moderate Republicans welcomed McCarthy’s projected openness to returning to the speakership, stressing that he remains the only viable Republican who can lead during this time. Many echoed McCarthy, who said that he maintains the support of “96 percent” of the members of the House Republican Conference and that the remaining 4 percent who ousted him are “playing politics.”

After McCarthy’s news conference Monday, Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the former speaker “is acting with class and confidence and in the best interests of America.” Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.) said he believes McCarthy should be reinstated.

“Obviously, anything’s possible in this place. But I think when I have spoken to my colleagues, the vast majority of people are angry. They’re disgusted by what happened,” Lawler told reporters. “As I said, it is the single most destructive thing I’ve ever seen in politics. And it doesn’t even make sense.”

McCarthy’s comments come amid genuine concerns in the GOP conference that neither Scalise or Jordan can garner the necessary 217 votes to become speaker. Moderate Republicans, some of whom represent swing districts that President Biden won in 2020, remain skeptical that Scalise or Jordan would represent their interests if elected speaker, given that both are extremely conservative.

More-moderate Republicans who have served in Congress alongside Scalise say privately that he has not shown much openness in the past to legislating with their concerns in mind, according to several Republican lawmakers, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Scalise also has co-sponsored many conservative bills, including several that are antiabortion, and those lawmakers worry he would put those bills on the floor, making for tough votes that could hurt their chances at reelection next year.

It’s not obvious to me that any candidate will be able to get near-unanimous support from the Republican Caucus and there remains an unwillingness to get McCarthy or another candidate with 95% GOP support across the finish line with Democratic votes. But something has to give, soon, with multiple overlapping crises underway or on the horizon. Aside from the wars in Ukraine and Israel, there is the matter of a government shutdown on November 17 if either a budget or another CR isn’t passed.

Alas, the ones that are less phased by catastrophe are the radicals who voted McCarthy out to begin with. It’s hard to see how they turn around and vote for him to be re-installed—almost certainly under less onerous constraints than the first time.

The obvious workaround is a European-style coalition between Republican and Democratic moderates. But that strikes me as a pundit’s fantasy or a West Wing script, not a realistic possibility.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    Voting for McCarthy, even though he isn’t officially on the ballot, is a pretty reasonable gambit.

    I’m a bit surprised at the rift that seems to exist between McCarthy and Scalise. Normally, you would expect people in that situation to be a bit more solid. It could be that McCarthy is just getting paranoid (who could blame him?).

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  2. EddieInCA says:

    The GOP is really pushing minority rule. It’s insane that someone with 96% of the vote can be kept from the job by 4% of the caucus.

    It’s insane. But it’s also what they’re trying to do in Wisconsin, NC, SC, Ohio, and a few other states.

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  3. Kathy says:

    But that strikes me as a pundit’s fantasy or a West Wing script, not a realistic possibility.

    I see two reasons why this is so. One, no one really believes it can happen. Two the Republiqans want Democratic support in exchange for nothing.

    Past that, I’m unclear on the rules. Does the Speaker election require a majority of the number of representatives in the House, or only of those present when the vote takes place? And are those who vote “present” counted or not?

    Not that it matters, because see my first point.

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  4. charontwo says:

    @Kathy:

    From what I have read, a majority of those present and voting, those who vote present are ignored.

    The Democrats needed to show up and vote for Jeffries, otherwise McCarthy would have survived.

    I can not imagine any Democrats ever voting for McCarthy or McHenry. They might eventually vote for some sort of unity speaker, (to end the impasse), but only in exchange for meaningful and significant power sharing and for someone more acceptable.

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  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @charontwo: Agreed on McCarthy / McHenry. The timing of that office switching stunt during Feinstein’s funeral was really gross.

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  6. Daryl says:

    An International crisis.
    No House Speaker.
    A hold on Diplomats.
    A hold on Military Leaders.
    And MAGA Republicans are still discussed as though they are a credible political party.
    F’ing ridiculous.

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  7. wr says:

    Eight Republican House members voted to remove McCarthy. How can any of them now possibly turn around and support him? There’s nothing he can offer them that they don’t already have, so the only way for any of them to change their vote would be to admit that they paralyzed the entire government for nothing. Even their idiot MAGA supporters would drift away from them.

    So how could McCarthy ever win the seat back?

    1
  8. gVOR10 says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The GOP is really pushing minority rule.

    Yes They are. That is their goal. And until they accomplish it, they’re happy with gridlock. And I wish the supposedly liberal MSM would figure that out.

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  9. Richard Gardner says:

    I like the idea of McCarthy just for the Schadenfreude on Rep Matt Gaetz (and the other 7).

    1
  10. Kathy says:

    @charontwo:

    Thank you.

    I suppose there may be some unity GQP candidate who understands that if Democrats gave them their votes in exchange for nothing, that would be SOCIALISM!

    Also in the realm of fantasy, if the Democrats nominated and voted for Liz Cheney, what are the odds enough Republiqans would go along to get her elected? I estimate the interval [0, -infinity)

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  11. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: The same Liz Cheney who said McHenry is ideal as next speaker? Why not just vote for him then?

  12. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    It’s one thing to impose minority rule on Democrats and others, it’s quite different to do it to Republiqans in the House. The latter are better equipped to prevent it.

    @just nutha:

    Because Liz won’t be eager to kiss the Orange Ass’ ass.

    1
  13. Lounsbury says:

    McCarthy returning via a soft (“present” vote) support by the Democrats and a kind of Dune novel understanding of their power (the power to qdestroy a thing is the power to control it logic) could actually have much to recommend it

    Rather than some formal understanding it’s rather the threat of destruction.

    McCarthy spineless behaviours – except on avoiding default and then shutdown suggest useful leverage.

    And as the other likely Republicans seem manifestly worse politically, as well as potentially more competent in whipping their party, potentially useful

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, I really don’t know where it is going. However, I have a hard time imagining that the Democrats would vote for McCarthy or anyone else. No opposition party has EVER voted for Speaker, or for anyone other than their own candidate on any Speaker vote.

    But the part that really has me puzzled is that, if they vote to make McCarthy Speaker now, why did they then allow him to be vacated? To scare him, I guess. But it seems out of character for Jeffries. Honestly, I would let several votes go buy with Dems all voting for Jeffries before considering anything else.

    Let’s clarify why the government is paralyzed right now. The majority can’t agree on who their leader is. In mid session. We are in unprecedented territory. Let’s be really clear about who got us there.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: If any of the likely Republicans were skillful enough at whipping their party, nobody would be looking for a route by which to draft McCarthy back in.

    1
  16. Jen says:

    @Kathy: Notably, Liz Cheney is no longer a Representative, IIRC.

  17. BugManDan says:

    @Jen:

    Notably, Liz Cheney is no longer a Representative, IIRC

    The Speaker doesn’t technically have to be a Representative (see calls for Trump to get the job).