Kevin McCarthy confronts growing opposition from Republican ranks

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged the post-election drama among House Republicans last week, but he expressed great confidence that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, his longtime ally, would persevere.

“I know all the people. I know the players. I think he’s going to be fine,” Ryan said on Thursday. “I think he’s going to be speaker.”

The former speaker’s prediction might ultimately prove right, but for now, few seem to share Ryan’s optimism.

We don’t yet know the exact size of the next House GOP conference, but we know the party’s margin will be narrow. Every Republican lawmaker who announces his or her opposition to McCarthy pushes the Californian a little further away from the speaker’s gavel he craves.

As this week got underway, four House Republicans — Arizona’s Andy Biggs, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, Montana’s Matthew Rosendale, and Virginia’s Bob Good — expressed firm, public opposition to McCarthy’s leadership bid. One member of the contingent suggested the actual number is even larger.

“I believe we have at least a dozen or so that are strong, courageous, that will do what needs to be done on the House floor to ensure that we get an improvement in the speaker situation,” Good said on a conservative radio program.

Yesterday, conditions got a little worse for McCarthy when the quartet became a quintet. Politico reported that the minority leader bid for the speakership is getting “rockier by the day.”

Another House Freedom Caucus member announced he would not vote for the GOP leader for speaker next term, with Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) telling POLITICO in an interview on Tuesday that he will be another vote against McCarthy. … Norman said he agreed he is a “hard” no vote against the California Republican, dismissing that he will either vote present or not attend the speakership vote early next year.

The South Carolinian said his opposition is the result of McCarthy rejecting the Republican Study Committee’s far-right budget plan. When Politico asked whether McCarthy could sway him with some assurances about a debt-reduction plan, Norman replied, “It’s too late right now.”

Puck’s Tara Palmeri also reported yesterday that, based on her conversations with GOP lawmakers, McCarthy’s odds of success “seem to be dropping every day.”

So, what happens now? First, keep an eye on just how far the would-be House speaker is prepared to go to secure his own members’ support. McCarthy is both weak and desperate, which is a tough combination for a congressional leader, and he already appears to be cutting some highly unfortunate deals to lock down far-right members’ backing.

McCarthy’s intraparty opponents realize they could ask for practically anything at this point and the incumbent minority leader would be inclined to give it to them in exchange for their votes.

Second, it’s important to appreciate the complexities of the arithmetic. I noted this week that the magic number for the would-be House speaker is 218, but that might not be entirely correct.

McCarthy will need a majority on the House floor, and in a 435-member chamber, that’s 218 votes. That said, a Washington Post analysis reminded me yesterday that if the denominator changes, the threshold changes, too: If a member misses the vote, the next speaker would need a majority of 434. If another member votes “present,” he or she would need a majority of 433, and so on.

McCarthy and his team are no doubt aware of all of this, as are his opponents. Watch this space.

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