Republicans will meet on Tuesday and vote on their official candidate for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives as conservative hardliners within the House Freedom Caucus signal objections to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy will need to win a majority of the entire conference to become the speaker-designee. The California Republican could potentially face a hurdle presented by the more than two-dozen members of the Freedom Caucus who are pledging to back an “alternative challenger.” However, Fox News learned that no one stood up to challenge the minority leader for the position during a closed-door candidate forum Monday.
Despite the anticipated challenge, McCarthy is likely to win the designation Tuesday. It does not, however, mean that his speakership bid is secured.
To become speaker, McCarthy will need at least 218 votes if the entire 435-member House is seated and voting in January.
Currently, the potential Republican majority looks to be anywhere between 218 seats, the bare minimum needed to control the House, and 228 seats. The latter would constitute a sweep of all outstanding races, including some in which Democrats are favored, but still falls far short of the 60 seats McCarthy predicted could be possible under a GOP wave that never materialized.
“I think we will have far better options than Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “I’m not going to announce anybody else’s candidacy.”
“This is a process-of-elimination exercise,” continued Gaetz. “Right now, any five people for any reason or no reason at all can determine that they have veto power.”
As such, McCarthy’s allies and opponents are watching Tuesday’s internal conference vote closely for his margin of victory.
“If there are only a handful of defections, people will say Kevin [McCarthy] likely has this and his hand becomes stronger,” said a senior aide to GOP leadership. “But if the vote against him is in the double digits, then all bets are off the table.”
Complicating matters is that few know exactly how much cushion McCarthy will have in January because the size of the GOP majority has yet to be called.
“If the GOP majority is 218, he can’t afford to lose a single vote,” said the aide. “If it’s 228, he can probably lose up to 10 votes. All eyes are on the conference vote because that will be the first sign of how strong or vulnerable McCarthy is right now.”
Even if McCarthy does draw double-digit opposition in the conference vote, the California Republican will have at least until January to strike a deal with opponents from the more than two-dozen member House Freedom Caucus.
Made up of hard-line and far-right GOP lawmakers, the Freedom Caucus wants concessions from McCarthy on House rules.
Among its demands are restoring the power to remove a speaker by a vote that could be called at any time; ensuring a floor vote on any amendment if 10% percent of the GOP conference cosponsors it; and reinstating a “majority of the majority” rule under which bills would only advance when supported by most GOP members.
The Freedom Caucus is also pushing for House committees to elect their own chairman, rather than the current process in which the leadership-stacked GOP steering committee is tasked with the responsibility.
“Many of us feel like there’s this illusion of representative government that our citizens have that’s not realistic,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa. There is “this top-down driven program here in Washington, D.C., where leadership calls all the shots, and you just vote on the floor not having been involved in any of the conversations.”
McCarthy’s ability to strike a deal is only possible provided a credible challenger does not emerge.
Fox News’ Kelly Phares contributed to this report.