Kevin McCarthy elected House GOP leader over objections from Chip Roy, Michael Cloud and other hard-liners
The California Republican still needs at least 218 votes to become House speaker. That vote will be on Jan. 3.
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WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy won his party's nomination for House Speaker, but not without some pushback from Texas conservatives.
During the House Republican Conference meeting Tuesday to pick its leadership for the next Congress, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, nominated Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, as an alternative candidate for speaker in a direct challenge to McCarthy, according to a source familiar with the secret ballot voting process. U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, seconded the nomination. Both members belong to the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, which has long challenged the status quo among the Republican conference.
McCarthy, R-California, has long been in line to ascend to the speakership should Republicans take control, with the party approaching the 218-seat threshold Tuesday afternoon. But a handful of vocal conservatives, including Roy, have criticized the GOP leader as a feckless choice, prompting others within the delegation to rally around the Californian’s defense.
“In the private sector, if you don’t perform the way you should, usually there’s some sort of change,” Roy said Monday on Fox News.
Still, McCarthy ended up victorious in the vote to be the party’s choice for speaker on a 188-31 vote, The Washington Post reported. But that didn’t deter Roy, who said in a statement to the Tribune, “My position remains the same until further notice — no one has 218 (or close, as needed). We have to sit down and establish the fundamental changes needed.”
The spat highlights a conflict within the Texas delegation and the party as a whole between those who want to loudly shake up business as usual and their critics who say the right flank is simply putting on a show. Texas sends more Republicans to Congress than any other state.
Roy, who failed in his own bid for the No. 3 GOP leadership spot in 2021, is among a number of conservative Republicans who criticized the party’s House leadership after an underwhelming midterm election. While the party was expecting to capitalize on low approval ratings for President Joe Biden and sweep up seats, Republicans are set to eke out only a razor-thin majority, losing a handful of highly competitive races. Roy and others, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Bob Good, R-Virginia, have also pushed for a greater voice for the Republican conference’s right wing and a change in the conference rules that give leadership substantial influence over the rank and file.
“Our leadership has not demonstrated the willingness to use all the tools at our disposal to check a radical White House and fight for the people suffering from its policies,” Roy wrote in a scathing op-ed for the Washington Examiner, though he did not mention McCarthy by name. The “House ‘leadership’ play, from top to bottom, was to offer an eleventh-hour, tepid, and weak ‘Commitment to America,’ which few people knew about, much less cared about, and which said both everything and nothing.”
Roy called for delaying leadership elections until Republicans knew how big their majority in the House would be. Several races remain uncalled Tuesday, and a slimmer majority would require a more aggressive whipping operation to maintain party discipline. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made a similar appeal to delay Senate Republican leadership elections, which are scheduled for Wednesday. Democrats managed to maintain their razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.
Biggs, the Arizona Republican, announced his plans to run against McCarthy on Tuesday, tweeting, “I look forward to serving our great nation and steering our country in a better direction after the disastrous midterms.”
But McCarthy has his defenders in the Texas delegation as well. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, who will be the fifth-most-senior Texas Republican in the new Congress, tweeted that “Leader McCarthy has led us to the majority and is the only one who can unify the party to hold the Biden administration accountable for its failures at home and abroad.”
McCarthy’s Texas allies aren’t all long-serving members hoping to maintain the status quo. Wesley Hunt, an incoming member of the Texas delegation from Houston who aligns himself with many of the Freedom Caucus’ values, said McCarthy’s ascent to the speakership is essentially a “fait accompli.”
“It looks like we’re gonna have a very thin margin in the House, and these are the kinds of the types of battles that we shouldn’t be fighting,” Hunt said.
Among Texas Republicans, Roy has so far expressed the most explicit discontent with current leadership, and other members are keeping their cards close. Just hours before the conference meeting, Cloud demurred when asked about whom he would want to be leader and instead focused on procedural changes that the caucus has been pushing for as part of leadership elections.
The House Freedom Caucus is advocating for amendments to the Republican conference’s rules in a bid to make the chamber more democratic, including allowing committee members to vote for their committee chairs (some committees have had a history of acrimonious relations with their chairs, who members say monopolize their work), requiring a majority of the conference to approve legislation before putting it to a floor vote and expanding the Steering Committee, which has a powerful role in committee assignments. Conservative members have also been pushing for the Freedom Caucus to get greater control over the House Rules Committee, which has substantial power over how legislation is introduced in the chamber.
“To me, who’s the face of the conference is secondary to the change that needs to happen,” Cloud said Tuesday before the meeting.
The Freedom Caucus succeeded in derailing McCarthy’s leadership bid in 2015, but his allies have continued to express confidence in his path to the speaker’s gavel this round. Roy acknowledged in his Fox News interview that McCarthy will likely get a majority in the Republican conference vote Tuesday, but he noted the entire chamber, including Democrats, will have the final vote on who will be the leader in January.
“There’s no one in Washington that currently has 218 votes in Washington,” Roy told the network.
Unlike the January speaker vote, Tuesday’s conference vote will be held by secret ballot behind closed doors, where “we’re going to go have a nice debate about the future of the party,” Roy told reporters.
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