A new Congress will meet, but will McCarthy be Speaker of the House?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The new Congress begins with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy seeking political survival, with the potential to become the first presidential candidate in 100 years to initially fail to win support from his own peers at a high-stakes voice. for the hammer.

Lawmakers will meet Tuesday for a new era of divided government as Democrats relinquish control of the House after losing in the midterm elections. With the Senate remaining in Democratic hands, Republicans in the House are eager to face President Joe Biden’s agenda after two years of the Democratic Party’s monopoly on power in Washington.

But first, House Republicans must elect a president.

McCarthy is in line to replace speaker Nancy Pelosi, but he goes to the vote with no guarantee of success. The California Republican faces critics rooted in his own ranks. Despite efforts to flatter, harass and win over them — even with the support of former President Donald Trump — McCarthy has been unsuccessful.

The afternoon’s showdown could well turn into a protracted battle in the House of Representatives, a spectacle that divides the Republican Party, weakens its leadership and consumes the first days of the new Congress.

“It’s much bigger than about one person,” said Doug Heye, a former senior aide to the Republican leadership. “It’s about whether Republicans will be able to govern.”

House Republicans huddle behind closed doors early in the morning ahead of action on the floor as newly elected lawmakers arrive for what is traditionally a holiday. Families in tow, members of the new Congress prepare to be sworn into the House and Senate before the start of the two-year legislative session.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, pauses during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, December 14, 2022.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, folder

A new generation of Trump-aligned Republicans are leading the opposition to McCarthy, inspired by the former president’s slogan Make America Great Again. They don’t think McCarthy is conservative enough or strong enough to fight the Democrats. It recalls the last time Republicans regained a majority in the House, after the 2010 election, when the tea class ushered in a new era of hard-hitting politics, ultimately leading Speaker John Boehner to retire early.

Usually, a majority of the 435 members of the House, 218 votes, is needed to become president. With a narrow majority of 222 seats, McCarthy can only afford a handful of opponents. A speaker can win by fewer than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Boehner did, if some legislators are absent or simply vote present.

But McCarthy has failed to win over a core — and potentially growing — group of right-wing Republicans led by the conservative Freedom Caucus party, despite weeks of closed meetings and promised house rule changes. Nearly a dozen Republicans have publicly voiced concerns about McCarthy.

“Kevin McCarthy doesn’t need 218 votes to be speaker,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chair of the Freedom Caucus and leader of Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 election, in an interview with The Associated Press. “Unless something drastic changes, we’ll be there.”

Late Monday night, McCarthy met with Perry in the president’s office on Capitol Hill, a Republican aide confirmed on condition of anonymity to discuss the private session.

Still, the prospect of wreaking havoc on day one has launched a counter-offensive from Republicans frustrated that critics are threatening the functioning of the new Congress.

A large but less vocal group of McCarthy supporters launched their own campaign, “Only Kevin”, as a way of silencing the opposition and pledging their support only to him.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, left, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaks with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., as Republican members of the House Second Amendment Caucus meet with reporters as they criticize a series of Democratic measures to curb gun violence following the mass shootings at a school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, at the Capitol in Washington, June 8, 2022.

AP Photo/J. Scott Apple White

A viable challenger to McCarthy had yet to emerge. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, a former leader of the Freedom Caucus, ran against McCarthy as a conservative option, but was not expected to win a majority. McCarthy defeated him in the November nominations match, 188-31.

The second house Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana would be an obvious next choice, a conservative beloved by his peers and considered a hero by some after surviving a brutal shooting at a congressional baseball game. in 2017.

Once rivals, McCarthy and Scalise have become a team. Scalise’s office on Monday dismissed a suggestion from another Republican as “false” that Scalise was on the phone about the speaker’s race.

McCarthy has vowed to fight to the end and has staged several rounds of careful floor voting – a sight not seen in Congress since the disputed Speakers’ Race in 1923.

“It would be nice if we were ready to go on January 3,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee. “But you know, if it doesn’t happen on the first ballot, then it pushes things back.”

Without a speaker, the House cannot fully form — appointing committee chairs, participating in floor debates and launching the investigations into the Biden administration that should be central to Republicans’ agendas.

The turmoil in the House on the first day of the new session could be in stark contrast to the other side of the Capitol, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will officially become the longest-serving party leader in history.

Though outnumbered in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority, McConnell could prove a viable partner as Biden aims for bipartisan victories in the new era of divided government. The pair would appear together later in the week in Kentucky, the GOP leader’s home state, to celebrate federal infrastructure investment in a vital bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California waves the gavel on opening day of the 117th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 3, 2021.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California waves the gavel on opening day of the 117th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 3, 2021.

Bill Clark/Pool via AP, file

McCarthy’s candidacy for president should have been fairly certain. Friendly and approachable, he led his party to a majority, having raised millions of campaign dollars and traveled the country recruiting countless new legislators to run for office.

Yet McCarthy has been here before, abruptly dropping out of the speaker race in 2015 when it was clear he had no Tory backing to replace Boehner.

One of holdouts’ main demands this time around is for McCarthy to reinstate a rule that would allow any legislator to make a “motion to vacate the seat” — in short, to call a vote to remove the president from office.

Pelosi scrapped the rule after the Tories used it to threaten Boehner’s impeachment, but McCarthy agreed to add it back — but at a higher threshold, requiring at least five lawmakers to sign the motion.

“I will work with everyone in our party to build a conservative consensus,” McCarthy wrote in a weekend letter to colleagues.

While McCarthy convened a conference call with Republican lawmakers on New Year’s Day to unveil the new package of house rules, Perry sent out a new letter of concern signed by eight other Republicans that the changes don’t go far enough. .

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