McCarthy’s pursuit of the orator’s gavel comes at a high cost

By LISA MASCARO, AP’s Conventional Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leader Kevin McCarthyis in the struggle of his political life, grinding his way through the promises and proposals, cajoling and making deals necessary to win over reluctant colleagues whose support he needs to become Speaker of the House will.

Any new signing from McCarthy can be viewed as a potentially strategic move to quell skeptics on his right flank while he grabs the speaker’s gavel. With a narrow House majority in the midterm elections, the GOP leader must solidify his ranks in a sprint to get the 218 votes he needs when the new Congress convenes – each at its price and with no room for error.

“We’re going to do it,” McCarthy said as he accepted his party’s nomination to run for speaker.

McCarthy’s overtures, some symbolic, others substantive, provide a snapshot of the emerging leadership style of the hopefuls. While McCarthy is expected to prevail in his quest for the orator’s gavel, he is destined to pay a political price in setting the tone and tenor of the new Congress.

To start, McCarthy has vowed to restore committee assignments to far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., after she and another right flank lawmaker were booted by Democrats over inflammatory remarks.

And he has vowed to oust Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other high-profile Democrats from their committees in the form of political payback by launching divisive House action early in the new Congress.

McCarthy has assured that under his leadership the House of Representatives will remove the metal detectors installed to prevent gunfire in the House of Representatives; End COVID-era protocols that allowed lawmakers to vote by proxy; and to fully reopen restricted visitor access to the Capitol since the January 6, 2021 riot by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

And in a dramatic nod to the far right, McCarthy has threatened an impeachment probe into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas if he doesn’t resign over the handling of the US southern border with Mexico.

“McCarthy’s problem is that he can’t get to 218 without Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz,” Schiff said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, referring to the outright far-right members of the GOP of the House of Representatives. “And so he will do whatever they ask.”

McCarthy’s upcoming challenge is not unique as he scrambles to garner support before the new Congress meets in January. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., faced critics during her own pursuit of the hammer and was forced to deftly take out the naysayers one by one until she secured backup.

But the problem McCarthy faces is clearly Republican, one that almost doomed his recent predecessors. Paul Ryan and John Boehner both suffered politically as they were pushed and pushed to make concessions for their support by the GOP’s increasingly far-right flank. Eventually, both men won the speaker’s gavel, but were eventually eliminated early.

After leading his party to victory in the midterm elections, McCarthy won the nods from a majority of his peers, who nominated him for the speaker’s nomination. But the 188-31 vote among Republicans showed the gap he must bridge. When the new Congress meets in January, the entire House, Republicans and Democrats alike, will vote on the speaker, and McCarthy’s party will need to stick together with their narrow majority for him to prevail. Otherwise, another Republican could emerge as a compromise candidate.

“This is a big challenge,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a former leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who challenged McCarthy for the nomination with a long-range shot.

“I know he thinks he’s going to make it,” Biggs said. “I don’t know if he can.”

Though McCarthy defeated Biggs, 188-31, in the behind-closed-doors vote and another five Republicans cast ballots for other candidates, that’s a pool of about three dozen votes the GOP leader must reclaim if he hopes to land the job of to win speaker .

“They know they have a problem,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C., another Freedom Caucus member. “In other words: 36 votes against is a problem.”

As party leader, McCarthy has myriad tools at his disposal, including favors, that he can dish out to gain support — from grand committee assignments or newly created leadership roles to commitments to elevating the legislature’s own priorities, including investigations into President Joe Biden and his family and its administration.

The influential Freedom Caucus has long wanted more say in the legislative process — rather than a top-down approach — and its members are pushing McCarthy with more specific demands that would give them more power, even at McCarthy’s expense.

“I am confident that at the end of the day we will come together as a conference and elect Kevin,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the new chairman of the oversight committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press. ”

Comer said there are “certainly five to eight members who have said they tend to vote no to Kevin McCarthy.” Resistance of that magnitude would derail McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker.

The California Republican has been here before, having retired from the speaker’s race in 2015 when it became clear he didn’t have enough support.

To convince skeptics, McCarthy has met with Republicans who are working out their internal party rules for the new Congress. While such rules are not generally relevant to the general public, they play an important role behind the scenes.

For example, some conservatives want McCarthy to enact a ban on earmarking that allows lawmakers to funnel federal dollars to local projects and programs in their home states, a legal benefit long derided as wasteful.

Others want McCarthy to push through a balanced federal budget in the coming years, which would require huge spending cuts.

Some of the more conservative Members of the House want to restore a rule allowing any Member to request, at any time, the removal of the Speaker used by the then MP. Mark Meadows as a pressure point during Boehner’s tenure. Instead, they passed a stipulation that filing such a “request to vacate the presidency” should only be done with the consent of the party.

McCarthy walked out of a private meeting, calling it “a great discussion.” He pointed out that this is the beginning of a long process in the coming weeks.

“I don’t know if that convinces her,” he said. “I think it’s about discussing them and listening to them.”