Kevin McCarthy Hits the Campaign Trail in Bid for House Speaker
By Kaia Hubbard
The midterm elections have largely come to a close weeks after Election Day, as remaining race results trickle in, the GOP secured control of the House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her plans for her future.
But for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the campaign hasn’t ended.
Armed with only a meager showing instead of a “red wave” and an onslaught of intra-party accusations about who is to blame that have followed, McCarthy’s campaign for speakership that had once seemed all-but secured carries on, as he pieces the party back together – and with it, his votes for the speakership that are still not guaranteed.
The election’s outcome is a narrow majority for Republicans in the lower chamber, which has left McCarthy in the precarious position of having very few votes to spare. And this week, the tide appeared to be moving in the wrong direction for McCarthy as he sought to reunite his conference.
Though the California Republican won his party’s nomination for speaker last week handily, with 188 votes to 31 votes for his opponent, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, McCarthy needs support from a majority of the chamber – Democrats included – to become House speaker in January, making defections from anyone in his conference dangerous. If current projections pan out as expected in the House, as just a handful of races remain uncalled, Republicans are expected to have just a four-vote majority.
Already, a handful of House Republicans from the party’s conservative wing have said they would not support McCarthy’s bid for speaker, including Biggs, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia and Rep. Matthew Rosendale of Montana.
“He wants to maintain the status quo, which consolidates power into his hands and a small group of individuals he personally selects,” Rosendale wrote about McCarthy in a tweet last week. “We need a leader who can stand up to a Democrat-controlled Senate and President Biden. And unfortunately, that isn’t Kevin McCarthy.”
Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina joined the growing list this week, telling Politico that he is a “hard” no when it comes to voting for McCarthy for speaker. And Good warned earlier this week that the group may be part of at least a dozen Republicans who will not support McCarthy come January’s vote.
Even if McCarthy can secure the votes, some have argued that the situation threatens to make a weak speaker out of the California lawmaker, at the mercy of others who would withhold a vote on even the most mundane procedural matters.
Accordingly, McCarthy has set off on what resembles a campaign for speaker, heading to El Paso, Texas, this week, while Congress was out for the Thanksgiving holiday, as he rallied with a handful of Republicans over an issue that the party has clamored about – border security.
Perhaps moving to appease his Republican colleagues, some of whom have demanded action for months, McCarthy on Tuesday called for the resignation of President Joe Biden’s top official overseeing the border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, pointing to a long-anticipated effort to begin impeachment proceedings ahead of his party officially taking control of the chamber in the new year if Mayorkas refuses to resign.
“His actions have produced the greatest wave of illegal immigration in recorded history,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “Our country may never recover from Secretary Mayorkas’ dereliction of duty. This is why today I’m calling on the secretary to resign. He cannot and must not remain in that position.”
McCarthy has, along with the bulk of his party, rallied behind border security, positioning the issue at the top of Republicans’ priority list – at least as a talking point or criticism of a Democratic administration. Earlier this year, more than 100 members of the party’s conservative wing authored a letter to Mayorkas, warning that his actions at the border had “willingly endangered American citizens” and “undermined the rule of law.” McCarthy himself warned in April that impeachment of Mayorkas could be on the table. And more recently, the border security issue has been a sticking point, with House Republicans rejecting a procedural move to fund the government because the legislation did not address illegal immigration.
Accordingly, McCarthy’s call for resignation and warning of a possible impeachment proceedings would not come as a surprise, had it not been for comments he made last month suggesting the opposite.
McCarthy downplayed calls for impeachment for a number of Biden administration officials that had been circulating among his conference in an interview with Punchbowl News in October, saying, “I don’t see it before me right now.”
“You watch what the Democrats did,” he said, warning of impeachment used for political purposes. “They all came out and said they would impeach before Trump was ever sworn in. There wasn’t a purpose for it. If you spent all that time arguing against using impeachment for political purposes, you’ve got to be able to sustain exactly what you said.”
But on Tuesday he appeared to change his tune, perhaps bowing somewhat to the party’s conservative wing that has advocated for the move since last year.
Republican Rep. Adam Kizinger of Illinois, a member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol who did not seek reelection this year, warned that in order to gain and maintain the speakership, McCarthy will be “hostage” to the “extreme wings of the Republican Party.”
“I frankly don’t think he’s going to last very long,” Kinzinger said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
But McCarthy did note on Tuesday that “we never do impeachment for political purposes,” adding, “If the investigation leads to an impeachment inquiry, we will follow through.”
Some have expressed confidence in McCarthy, like former House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I think he’ll get 218,” Ryan said in an interview with ABC on Sunday, adding that “if he doesn’t get 218, we’ve got to elect a speaker – and there isn’t’ anybody better suited to running this conference than Kevin McCarthy.”
But with such narrow margins, the next few weeks will likely not be restful for McCarthy, as he works to unite the conference after a post-election falling out.
The move to remove Mayorkas is among a laundry list of impeachments and investigations Republicans have pledged to take up in the new year. And with a slim majority and the upper chamber controlled by Democrats – making lawmaking especially difficult, if not impossible – drafting articles of impeachment and investigations are some of the only tools Republicans have at their disposal.
Some, like White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, have criticized Republicans for centering their agenda on opposition to the Biden administration rather than concrete policy. Jean-Pierre said to reporters on Tuesday when asked about McCarthy’s presence at the border, “What is his plan?”
“What is he doing to help the situation that we’re seeing?” Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing. “He goes down there and he does a political stunt like many Republicans do – that we’ve seen them do – but he actually is not putting forth a plan.”
McCarthy briefly outlined a plan to remove Mayorkas from the position – by his own volition or not.
But whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, especially as Republicans navigate a rift since the disappointing election results that have left them pitted against one another.
“We need to work together,” McCarthy said on Fox News shortly after House control was called for Republicans last week. “We are the only Republican entity that can stop this disastrous Biden agenda.”
House Republicans also announced shortly after claiming control of the House last week that they would launch an investigation into President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings at a press conference that was overshadowed by Pelosi’s announcement that her historic tenure in Democratic leadership would come to an end.
McCarthy’s struggles to corral his members and secure his own leadership position appear more pronounced against the contrast playing out across the aisle in the chamber. While House Republicans have squabbled over their newfound control and who will be at its helm, House Democrats have generally fared better as they look toward the new Congress with few snags, even as they usher in a “new generation” of leadership.
After Pelosi’s announcement that she will step down, which spurred similar announcements from other top Democrats who had been at the party’s helm for years, that new generation of House Democratic leaders seemingly seamlessly emerged, helmed by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Their leadership elections are set to take place next week.
Indeed, Democrats and Republicans are facing vastly different realities heading into the new year, after surprising outcomes to the midterm elections have left Democrats in relatively good spirits while Republicans have pointed fingers over who is to blame for the party’s poor showing.
Perhaps complicating matters more is McCarthy’s proximity to former President Donald Trump, whom some have pointed to as the party’s downfall in the midterms. But others have remained loyal to the former president, who announced his third bid for office last week.
Either way, McCarthy now walks a fine line in his path to become speaker. And if he succeeds, he faces perhaps an even greater challenge of uniting a fractured and demanding group of lawmakers to get anything done.
“In 42 days, a united Republican House takes control,” McCarthy said during his remarks from the southern border on Tuesday. “In 42 days we end one-party Democrat rule in Washington. A new House of Republicans will work to stop Joe Biden’s assault on our laws, our borders and our border agents. We will use the power of the purse and the power of the subpoena.”
Leave a Reply