Republican leader Kevin McCarthy cleared the first major step Tuesday toward becoming House speaker, winning the nomination on a vote by his GOP colleagues, but he now faces a weeks-long slog to quell objections from his right flank before a final vote. McCarthy has led House Republicans this far, and with them now on the cusp of majority control, he has a chance to seize the gavel from Nancy Pelosi if Democrats are defeated. The vote was 188-31, with ballots cast by newly elected and returning GOP lawmakers, and some whose races have not yet been called, the AP reports.
The formal vote for House speaker will come when the new Congress convenes in January, and McCarthy will need to shore up support from no fewer than 218 lawmakers with potentially just a few votes to spare. "We’re going to have the ability to change America,” McCarthy said, upbeat as he entered the private meeting. He noted backing from right-flank Republicans Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who says opposing McCarthy would be too "risky," and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as part of his "vast support." But Republican leaders are facing an intense backlash on Capitol Hill over their disappointing performance in the midterm elections, when McCarthy's promises of a GOP sweep that would transform Washington collapsed.
Instead, the House could have one of the slimmest majorities in 90 years, leaving McCarthy exposed to challengers. The fallout is spilling down-ballot in other Republican leadership races and in the Senate, where Republican leader Mitch McConnell will face his own colleagues on Wednesday. The former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, announced he is challenging McCarthy, saying Americans want a “new direction." "The promised red wave turned into a loss of the United States Senate, a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, and upset losses of premiere political candidates,” Biggs said in a statement. "McCarthy does not have the votes needed to become the next Speaker of the House and his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion." (Read more Kevin McCarthy stories.)