Republicans’ Infighting over the Next House Speaker Doesn’t Take a Christmas Break, with Matt Gaetz Adding to the Tension

We’re only eight days away from Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, and it appears that the battle for the House Speaker's chair is continuing. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current House minority leader and the Republicans’ official speaker candidate, is being challenged by the right wing of the GOP party, with some House Freedom Caucus members publicly declaring their disapproval. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who ran against McCarthy and was defeated after the Republicans voted for their speaker candidate last month, announced his plans to run against McCarthy again when the chamber's full membership votes for its next speaker at the beginning of January.

Until now, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was rumored to be with Biggs in opposition to McCarthy. However, Gaetz went on Twitter and threw a curveball, stating, “All I want for Christmas is Jim Jordan to realize he should be Speaker of the House!”

It's unclear whether Gaetz is just trying to complicate the speaker's race or whether he, at this late date, truly supports the candidacy of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and beloved by the conservative grassroots. Jordan is preparing for his new job as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and has not said that he would like to become speaker but has instead supported McCarthy. Jordan has also advocated for the unity of his party, concerned that more moderate Republicans could join forces with the opposition party and vote in a Democrat as the next speaker.

It's a numbers game for Kevin McCarthy at this point; Republicans will hold a slim majority of 221-213 over Democrats (there's a special election taking place in Virginia for the successor of the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin) in the new Congress. McCarthy requires 218 votes to be the next speaker, but he received only 188 votes when Republicans nominated him for the post, with Biggs getting 31 votes. McCarthy is expected to garner the majority of Biggs' votes, but there are five members of the group—Biggs himself as well as Gaetz, Ralph Norman (R-SC), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), and Bob Good (R-VA)—who are all strongly opposed to McCarthy, with a handful of others refusing to declare who they support.

Kevin McCarthy will presumably spend the next few days whipping up his supporters and making concessions in order to get the votes he requires to win the contest. If he isn't able to accrue the crucial 218 votes, roll-call votes will continue until one candidate has the required number of votes. Based on the Congressional Research Service, roll-call votes are conducted repeatedly until there's an outcome:

“If no candidate receives the requisite majority of votes cast, the roll call is repeated. No restrictions are imposed on who may receive votes in the subsequent ballots. (For instance, no candidate is eliminated based on receiving the fewest votes in the floor election, and a Member’s vote is not limited to individuals who received votes in previous ballots.)”

It's possible that this is what Matt Gaetz had in mind when proposing Jim Jordan as a candidate, since the rules clearly offer an opportunity for a previously unidentified candidate to make a move for the 218 votes. Jordan isn't likely to be a contender, so what is the status of McCarthy's current deputy, Steve Scalise (R-LA)? The Washington Times reported that some Republican lawmakers have advised Scalise to “be prepared to step in if Mr. McCarthy cannot secure a simple majority when lawmakers in both parties vote for House speaker on the opening day of the 118th Congress.”

It seems that a Scalise speakership is attractive to people who oppose McCarthy, with an aide of one McCarthy opponent saying that Scalise can “definitely” win and another Republican stating, “If Kevin doesn't get it, Scalise gets it easily.” For his part, Scalise has maintained his commitment to McCarthy.

The vote for the new Speaker of the House will be held on January 3, 2023.

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