Seven scenarios for McCarthy’s Speakership vote — ranked least to most likely

All eyes are on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he negotiates a fragile path to the Speakership next year in the face of opposition from a handful of conservatives within his own conference.

The Republicans flipped control of the House in last month’s midterms, but their razor-thin majority has empowered the far-right firebrands who are vowing to block McCarthy’s Speakership bid — and are resisting all entreaties to alter course for the sake of party unity.

The entrenched opposition has raised the specter that McCarthy simply won’t have the support he needs to win the gavel when the House gathers on Jan. 3 to choose the next Speaker.

And it’s sparked a number of predictions — some of them more far-fetched than others — about how the day might evolve and who might emerge as the next Speaker if McCarthy falls short.

Here are seven scenarios being floated heading into the vote, ranked from least to most likely:

A Democrat squeaks in 

It’s theoretically possible that discord within the GOP could lead to a Democratic Speaker.

Such a result is very, very unlikely because Republicans will have the majority in the vote and do not want this to happen.

But it is possible — if chaos on the floor prompted frustrated GOP moderates to back a centrist Democrat — that a member of the minority could be elected Speaker.

In fact, it’s one of the warnings that McCarthy and his allies have sounded in recent weeks as they seek to break the logjam of opposition and win him the gavel. 

“If we don’t do this right, the Democrats can take the majority. If we play games on the floor, the Democrats can end up picking who the Speaker is,” McCarthy said in a November Newsmax interview after he won the House GOP nomination for Speaker 188 to 31 over Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.).

The warning, however, is more threat than prospect, as Republicans would never back a Democrat for Speaker after four years in the minority wilderness under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And even McCarthy has seemed to acknowledge that implausibility, by shifting his argument elsewhere in the weeks since.  

House elects a Speaker who is not a member of Congress

House rules do not technically require that the Speaker is a sitting, elected member of House — though every Speaker in U.S. history has been. That leaves open the possibility of members looking for a McCarthy alternative elsewhere.

When conservative House Republicans aimed to mount a challenge to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2014, they tried to recruit Ben Carson, who later went on to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a Pelosi detractor, made a habit of voting for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a supporter of McCarthy, told The Hill last week that there is no other member of the House Republican Conference who can get the support needed to be Speaker. And Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a liberal who’s been open to supporting a moderate “unity” candidate as a last resort, has said it does “not necessarily” have to be a sitting member. 

A moderate Republican wins with backing of some Republicans and Democrats

That is a top worry of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of McCarthy for Speaker.

Greene, who got a seat at the table from McCarthy rather than being made an outcast in the GOP conference, has repeatedly warned that moderate Republicans could flip to work with Democrats and support someone who is not as conservative as McCarthy — and less accommodating.

But Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who has said he’s talked to Democratic members about the possibility of backing an alternative candidate, has said he will only consider such a drastic measure if McCarthy drops out of the race for Speaker after repeated failed votes.

Still, at least one Democrat, Khanna, has expressed openness to backing a Republican Speaker candidate who will take certain measures to open up the House process to give Democrats more power in the minority, like equal subpoena power on committees. It is unlikely that Republicans would agree to such a concession.

Other lawmakers are skeptical of the chances for a bipartisan consensus candidate, saying it would be political suicide, particularly for Republicans.

“Let’s just say 20 of them joined with us to nominate somebody like Don Bacon, or bring Fred Upton back, or whatever,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “Those 20 will be not quite as bad as if they voted for [former President Trump’s] impeachment, but moving in that direction. I just think that they’ll get beat to death." 

McCarthy drops out of Speakership race to make way for consensus pick

Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise

The first time McCarthy sought the Speaker’s gavel was in 2015, to replace the retiring Boehner. That effort ended before the process ever reached the floor.

Faced with conservative opposition, McCarthy stunned Washington by dropping out of the race at the last moment, leaving Republicans scrambling for a viable candidate, who ultimately emerged in the form of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). 

The difference this year is that there is no obvious figure who can easily win the support of both far-right conservatives who want to alter fundamentally how the House functions and the moderates ready to get on with the process of governing. 

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), McCarthy’s top deputy, has been floated as a possible alternative.

But there’s no indication the conservatives would support anyone who didn’t accept the same demands they’re making of McCarthy, including a controversial rule change making it easier to oust a sitting Speaker — a change that would empower the right wing even further.

While Biggs continues his protest challenge to McCarthy, he has teased that there are other Republicans who have privately expressed interest in being an alternative if it becomes clear McCarthy cannot win the gavel.

But Biggs and his allies won’t name names, fearing doing so would put a target on their back.

House agrees to make McCarthy Speaker with a plurality of votes

If the House Speakership election drags on for multiple votes with McCarthy in the lead but not securing enough votes for a majority, the House could agree to adopt a resolution to declare that a Speaker can be elected by a plurality rather than by a majority.

That would require cooperation from Democrats, and it is not clear whether they would support such a resolution.

But there is precedent for the House agreeing to elect a Speaker by plurality, as it has happened twice before in House history.

The first time was in 1849, after the House had been in session for 19 days and held 59 ballots for Speaker. It happened again in 1856, when the House had taken 129 Speaker votes without any candidate winning a majority.

With so much uncertainty, some lawmakers are already bracing for a long day on Jan. 3. 

“I’m obviously observing it from the other side, but all the intel I get from my Republican friends is that: expect it to go late,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). “And I plan to wear my comfortable suit.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), a top “Never Kevin” Republican, floated that the Speaker election could take months — rivaling the longest-ever Speaker election in 1855, which took two months and 133 ballots.

“We may see the cherry blossoms before we have a Speaker,” Gaetz said, referring to the blooms that emerge in March or April in Washington, D.C. 

McCarthy elected Speaker because of Democratic absences

A Speaker is elected by a majority of all of those present and voting, meaning that McCarthy does not necessarily need 218 votes to win the Speakership. If some members are absent or vote “present,” it lowers the threshold from 218.

Pelosi won the Speakership in 2021 with 216 votes due to vacancies and absences. And Boehner also won the Speakership with just 216 votes in 2015, when 25 members did not vote. Many Democrats were attending a funeral for the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) that day.

If the Speakership election drags on and Democrats tire of the repeated ballots, it is possible that Democratic members miss subsequent votes, which could lower the majority threshold just enough for McCarthy to squeak out a victory. 

Illness, weather or other unforeseen circumstances could also affect member attendance on Jan. 3. And because Republicans are planning to eliminate the proxy voting installed by Democrats during the pandemic, lawmakers would not have the option of voting remotely for Speaker. 

In the closely divided House, with 222 Republicans to 212 Democrats and one vacancy, McCarthy needs 218 votes if every member votes for a Speaker candidate. 

McCarthy wins an outright majority of votes

Kevin McCarthy

Many Republicans supportive of McCarthy are optimistic that he will ultimately win a majority of votes without having to worry about Democrats.

These lawmakers see the opposition from hard-line GOP members as little more than political posturing as they aim for concessions on rules changes and tactics

Some members think that McCarthy may even be able to strike a deal with his detractors and win on the first ballot. Others think that once the McCarthy detractors make their point with at least one failed ballot, they might switch votes to allow him the gavel.

Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) compared McCarthy’s situation to that of Pelosi after the 2018 election, when she started off with enough opponents to deny her the Speakership but made enough agreements to earn majority support from Democrats.

“It is not any different. Like, they have a month the jockey and people vote against Pelosi, and ultimately they all get to the point they need to get to. I'm confident we'll do the same,” Moore said. “If I'm blindsided and we're doing 700 rounds and we're here till July, you can come back to me and say, ‘You were wrong.’”

McCarthy said on Fox News on Wednesday that he will have the votes to become Speaker either on Jan. 3 or before then.

“It could be somebody else, but whoever the somebody else is, everyone has a similar problem [with conservatives],” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “Which makes me believe that ultimately he’ll probably pull it together.”

Paul Ryan Campaigns For GOP Rep. Who ‘Had the Guts’ To Impeach Trump

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan campaigned for Representative Tom Rice on Wednesday, suggesting the South Carolina Republican’s vote to impeach Donald Trump was a gutsy call and railing against GOP “celebrities” trying to aid the former President’s “vengeance.”

The comments marked the first serious public rebuke of Trump by the former Speaker of the House, once considered the future of the GOP, in some time.

Rice was one of only 10 Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of impeaching Trump over his alleged role in inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

Ryan praised his actions.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to vote like Tom but who just didn’t have the guts to do it,” Ryan said.

RELATED: Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Trump Are Already Facing Primary Challenges

Paul Ryan Rips Trump, GOP

Paul Ryan continued to attack the Republican Party during his campaign speech to aid embattled Representative Tom Rice, calling out lawmakers who dare to support Trump.

Ryan embraced Rice as a “man of conviction” whose vote to impeach was a “vote for the Constitution.”

“This is just such a crystal clear case where you have a hard-working, effective, senior member of Congress who deserves reelection vs. people who are just trying to be celebrities who may be trying to help Trump with his vengeance,” he added.

“That’s not who voters want, voters want people focused on their solutions, not on Trump’s vengeance and that to me is a really clear-cut case here,” said Ryan.

RELATED: ‘Never Trumpers’ Paul Ryan, John Boehner, And Adam Kinzinger Supporting Liz Cheney’s Reelection Bid

Pro-Impeachment Tom Rice is Struggling

It’s unclear if Paul Ryan’s campaign efforts for Tom Rice will yield results, as the incumbent is currently trailing in polls to Russell Fry, the South Carolina Legislature’s majority whip, who earned Trump’s endorsement.

Fry, in an interview with Breitbart News, said the former President’s endorsement had been a boon for his campaign.

“The energy’s incredible, you know. Prior to the Trump endorsement, we were tracking well, we were very firmly in a one versus one kind of race,” Fry said.

“There’s several people in the race, but the endorsement has been, like lights out. I mean, it’s just been incredible. The energy is real.”

An internal poll from Fry’s campaign shows Rice trails the Trump-endorsed candidate by double digits in their primary race.

Ryan meanwhile, has also hitched his wagon to another struggling horse in Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney.

Cheney is also one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, and one who has made it a personal crusade to embellish the events at the Capitol over a year ago.

The Political Insider reported in September that Ryan had been donating money and support to Cheney’s re-election bid in the hopes that he could help in “exciting her own voters.”

Cheney, like Rice according to a new poll, is struggling, which is pretty exciting. She trails her primary opponent, Harriet Hageman, a Wyoming attorney who has the backing of Trump, by a whopping 30 percentage points.

Trump has referred to Ryan as a “curse to the Republican Party” after the former Speaker advised the GOP to steer clear of the “populist appeal of one personality.”

Paul Ryan also overdramatized the events of January 6th and Trump’s role, saying he found it “horrifying to see a presidency come to such a dishonorable and disgraceful end.”

“He has no clue as to what needs to be done for our Country, was a weak and ineffective leader, and spends all of his time fighting Republicans as opposed to Democrats who are destroying our Country,” Trump fired back.

The former President has said Tom Rice is a “coward who abandoned his constituents by caving to Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left.”

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Paul Ryan Set To Be Keynote Speaker At Never-Trumper Kinzinger’s Fundraiser

Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be the keynote speaker on Monday at a fundraising event for anti-Trump Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). The event is a pricey one, according to Politico, ticket prices range from $250 to $11,600.

Kinzinger was one of ten Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for what many critics of the former president say is his inciting of the riot that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Kinzinger, who now regularly attacks Trump, may well pay a political price for being outspoken in his contempt of the former president.

Of the ten GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump, nine, including Kinzinger, have at least one 2022 primary challenger, and the they all have the attention of The Donald.

RELATED: Marjorie Taylor Greene And Thomas Massie Throw Their House Mask Violation Warnings In The Trash

Ryan Also A Critic Of Trump

Paul Ryan left Congress in 2019 after a number of GOP House members and Senators announced they would not be seeking re-election.

While the official reasons range from running for governorships to House members running for the Senate, to the old standby of “wanting to spend more time with my family,” there is some thought that many of those incumbent House members and Senators were done with Donald Trump.

In 2016, Ryan told Republicans that they “should feel free to abandon Trump,” making it pretty clear that there was no effort to encourage Republicans to work with Trump when he took office. 

Paul Ryan has also been a critic of Trump. He called efforts by Republicans to challenge electoral college votes for President Joe Biden “anti-democratic and anti-conservative.”

After the election, Ryan also said that Trump should accept the results of the 2020 election, and “embrace the transfer of power.” 

RELATED: Meghan McCain And Joy Behar Have Massive Fight Over Fauci’s Vaccine Messaging

Kinzinger, Other Never-Trumpers Portrayed By The Media As ‘Rebels’

Much like his colleague Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was recently removed from a GOP leadership position, Kinzinger is portrayed by the media as being someone who is alone in his beliefs, who is in a “its lonely at the top” position.

A February New York Times article describes him as someone who “now faces the classic challenge for political mavericks aiming to prove their independence.” 

Not only is he seen by other Republicans much like Cheney, as ignoring the direction voters want to take the party in, but soon after his impeachment vote, a cousin put out a very public letter in which she says that Kinzinger had disappointed the family, and that, “You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!” The cousin added that she wanted Kinzinger to be “shunned.”

Kinzinger recently formed a Political Action Committee with the goal being to “reformat” the party by emphasizing low taxes, defense, and social conservatism. The one thing not mentioned however, is an America First Agenda.

RELATED: Donald Trump, Ivanka, Don Jr. Will Be In ‘Orange Jumpsuits,’ Michael Cohen Says 

Clear Lines Have Been Drawn

Having Paul Ryan speak at any GOP event sends a clear message not just to the party but to voters as well. There is no doubt that Donald Trump is now, and will likely remain, the most influential person in the Republican Party. 

But it becomes more and more clear that there are two distinct wings of the party. One sure way to gauge which one is more popular with voters will be when Donald Trump begins to hold rallies next month.

It will also reveal a lot about where conservative voters’ heads are leading up to 2022. Will they feel the need to chastise Adam Kinzinger and the others who voted to impeach Donald Trump by voting them out of office? 

Back in February, residents of Kinzinger’s district were asked about how they felt about his vote to impeach Trump.

One of those residents, a 63-year old retired mechanical engineer had this to say, “If you want to vote as a Democrat, vote as a Democrat. Otherwise, if you’re a Republican, then support our president. Trump was the first president who represented me. The stuff he did helped me.”

Adam Kinzinger may be “at peace” with his vote. His constituents might not be.


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