House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urged Republicans on Monday to unite behind his bid to become speaker in January, pushing back against a small group of GOP lawmakers who want somebody more conservative to hold the gavel.
Mr. McCarthy, of California, received a standing ovation in the first closed-door meeting among House Republicans since the midterm election. While some House races remain undecided, the GOP is projected to hold the slimmest of majorities in January, perhaps as small as a single seat.
The party fell far short of a hoped-for red wave that would provide them dozens of new seats and the poor results have created angst within the party that reverberated into the Capitol this week.
In Monday’s forum, Mr. McCarthy reassured rank-and-file Republicans that no matter how small their majority, it gives the party control of the chamber and will halt the Democrats’ agenda.
“They don’t give out gavels in small, medium and large. We have the majority and we have the gavel,” Mr. McCarthy, 57, told the Republican lawmakers, according to a source in the room.
On the other side of the Capitol, a small group of Senate Republicans challenged the party’s leadership elections scheduled for this week, demanding a delay to dig into the disappointing midterm election results that left them in the minority. The group of senators, who include Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, say lawmakers should at least await the results of the Senate election in Alaska and for the completion of a runoff election in Georgia on Dec. 6.
Mr. McCarthy enjoys the backing of most House Republicans and is poised to win the election Tuesday to lead the conference as well as the nomination for speaker.
But to become speaker, he’ll have to win a majority of votes among all lawmakers on the House floor on the opening day of Congress in January.
That means nearly every single Republican, if not all of them, will have to vote for McCarthy for him to prevail over Democrats, who will not vote for him to become speaker.
The small majority Republicans are likely to hold means a small number of GOP lawmakers, even as few as one lawmaker, could thwart Mr. McCarthy in the floor vote for speaker.
At the very least, that would be a stinging embarrassment to Mr. McCarthy and the chambers’ newly-minted GOP majority.
So far, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, said he is fully committed to voting against Mr. McCarthy. A handful of other Republicans say they want concessions from the GOP leadership to consider voting for Mr. McCarthy.
One lawmaker, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who is a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, is plotting a challenge to Mr. McCarthy. He’ll attract at least a few votes unless GOP leaders negotiate his withdrawal from the race.
Mr. Biggs was a no-show at the candidate forum on Monday but lawmakers allied with him said they are not ready to simply rubber-stamp Mr. McCarthy’s ascension.
“This ought to be a contest, a competition not a coronation,” Rep. Bob Good, Virginia Republican, said.
Freedom Caucus members in September sent Mr. McCarthy a letter that included several demands, including restoring a rule to allow any member to request a vote to oust the speaker. They also want to eliminate the automatic suspension of the debt ceiling without a standalone vote when the House adopts a budget resolution.
Freedom Caucus members want to prohibit combining spending bills into massive, omnibus packages at the end of the year that usually passes with little scrutiny or debate.
Mr. McCarthy has not responded to the Freedom Caucus letter, Mr. Good said.
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