Anyone But McCarthy?

Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy faces an increasingly challenging path to the Speakership. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
November 28, 2022

Every day seems to bring more bad news for new Washington prom king Kevin McCarthy as members of the House Freedom Caucus make it known publicly that they are #NeverKevins. So far, about five members of the House Freedom Caucus have said that they will not back McCarthy for Speaker, a fight he is willing to take to the floor. 

But the math for McCarthy is daunting: If Republicans have 222 seats, he can only afford to lose four. During the G.O.P. conference vote, 31 members were silent, but voted against him. There were also five who wrote in another candidate. The silent nos are probably the easiest to win over, but every day seems to bring another public rebuke. Now those close to him are starting to perceive that he doesn’t have the votes and he’s going to have to make the public ‘Nos’ go back on their word, which may be like reversing gravity. 

Of the five public nos, Reps. Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Bob Good are hard #NeverKevins. Their colleagues seem to all agree there is almost no way they will say McCarthy’s name on the House floor during the vote on January 3. Some could see Ralph Norman, the latest to publicly turn down McCarthy, as squishy and maybe someone that McCarthy could cut a deal with. The fifth public “no,” Matt Rosendale, who has his eyes on a Senate race in Montana in two years, might also be amenable as he thinks about his long-term prospects. 

Of course, there is one wild card that McCarthy could play that might work with even Gaetz, Biggs or Good: a seat on the powerful Rules Committee, which is basically the final stamp of approval before a bill goes to the floor. Maybe they could get a seat on a prestigious select committee or on House Intel? This would give the Freedom Caucus an incredible amount of power. 

I pinged Gaetz to see if there’s anything that would flip him for McCarthy—Rules, Intel, anything, and he gave me a flat “no.” Rosendale’s rep, Grace Davis, also said he’s not persuadable and will only be voting for McCarthy under “extreme circumstances.” She added: “The suggestion that Rep. Rosendale might be amenable to some sort of deal with McCarthy because he’s interested in running for Senate in two years is ridiculous and unfounded.”

As for whether Rosendale or Norman are persuadable, Gaetz told me: “Those people don’t know Ralph Norman and Matt Rosendale.”

Either way, there’s a feeling that the Freedom Caucus won’t have the juice to continue running through too many other options if they tank McCarthy. Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s No. 2, is equally unlikely to support their demand to change the House rules to allow one person to call a motion to vacate the chair, their poison pill. So, does the Freedom Caucus want to get rid of McCarthy or just make his life a living hell? The plot thickens…