Kevin McCarthy faces high-wire act as Republicans close in on U.S. House majority

WASHINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) – With Republicans nearing a narrower-than-expected majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, their leader Kevin McCarthy made a move on Tuesday to become speaker of the House, a job he has long coveted.

They can also find another difficult task – walking on tightropes.

McCarthy, 57, is the proud favorite to succeed Nancy Pelosi of California in January as speaker of the house — a job that carries a lot of power and a lot of headwinds. As a speaker, McCarthy could upset the aspirations of Democratic President Joe Biden.

McCarthy overcame a challenge from incumbent Representative Andy Biggs in Tuesday’s Republican House leadership election, winning the caucus vote by 188-31, according to a source familiar with the results.

McCarthy has just been named speaker when the new Congress takes office in January, assuming Republicans get the majority they expected.

Representative Steve Scalise, who was nominated on Tuesday to be the top speaker in the Republican-led House, dismissed suggestions McCarthy could face obstacles when the House votes on a speaker in January.

“The election was strong. But we will win the majority. And we talked a lot about what we can do to get this country back. And that’s where we focus,” Scalise told reporters.

But some Republicans said McCarthy could be in for a difficult trip to speak next year.

One of his staunchest opponents, Representative Matt Gaetz, predicted that a minority of five Republicans would be able to block McCarthy’s nomination in a narrowly divided chamber.

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“It is my hope that we will find someone in the room who doesn’t have five people who want to vote against him. But it won’t be Kevin McCarthy,” Gaetz told reporters.

McCarthy spent his adult life in politics – as a congressional staffer, then a state representative before being elected to the House in 2006.

The ascension to office – the second in line for the US presidency – may represent the pinnacle of McCarthy’s career, but it could be difficult. As speaker, he had to oversee the House Republicans’ caucus, which is in a state of flux, with inconsistent tendencies and loyalties to former President Donald Trump.

“The leadership of the Republican House has less margin for error. The House will be more like the Senate, where a few members can digest things very quickly,” said Republican analyst Alex Conant. “McCarthy is left with a crowd that will push him to the right.”

With votes still being counted in key races a week after the midterm elections, Republicans appear to be on the verge of gaining a majority in the slim House. He is currently two seats away, according to Edison Research, from taking control of the 435-seat chamber from Democrats.

Republicans missed the “red wave” that some predicted would lead to a comfortable House majority and control of the Senate. Instead, Democrats kept their majority in the Senate, meaning the two parties will have to work together to pass legislation if Republicans take the House.

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‘MIGRAINE HEADCHES’

House Republicans continue to embrace the right-wing populism and style of Trump, who is expected to launch his 2024 presidential bid on Tuesday.

Hardline Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus are calling for constitutional changes that would allow them to tighten their grip on their leader and get him out easily. The last two Republican House speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, faced different challenges from the right wing of the Republican caucus.

“Kevin McCarthy is going to have a lot of headaches,” said Republican Strategist Ron Bonjean. “This is the first salvo, even before McCarthy becomes speaker — the first of several high-profile debates over the next two years.”

As speaker, McCarthy could force votes focused on issues that Republicans see as beneficial to them – inflation, energy policy and crime – and launch an investigation into the Biden administration and family. McCarthy must also rally his party to vote on bills that should be passed to stabilize the government, fund the military and in 2023 to deal with the rapidly approaching US debt.

Republicans are considering more investigations into Biden and his leadership, as well as US border security, immigration, China, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden’s push to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and the FBI’s seizure of classified documents from Trump. Florida house.

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McCarthy was considered a favorite for speaker after Boehner announced his resignation in 2015. But McCarthy left in the face of conservative opposition. Instead, the speaker went to a reluctant Ryan, who decided not to seek re-election to Congress in 2018.

The problem for Biggs, one of the many conservatives who blamed McCarthy for his failure to deal with Republicans in the interim, was an indication of the difficulties he would face in managing his party’s interests. But McCarthy has the support of Jim Jordan, one of the most influential voices in the House.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus want to restore the ability of any member to pass a resolution calling for the speaker’s impeachment. In 2015, such a move – known as a move to leave the seat – led to Boehner’s resignation. The Freedom Caucus also wants the House to consider only legislation supported by a majority of Republicans and have committee chairs appointed by committee members, not party leaders.

David Morgan reports; Additional reporting by Jason Lange and Gram Slattery; He was replaced by Will Dunham, Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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