WASHINGTON — Kevin McCarthy faces nothing but turmoil.

Election 2022 House

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., arrives to speak at an event early on Wednesday morning in Washington. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

He was widely expected to become Speaker of the House if Republicans won a majority. And while he’s still the favorite, he is facing serious and increasingly vocal challenges from the GOP’s staunch conservatives that could thwart his bid.

If the Bakersfield, California, Republican survives, he’ll travel an endlessly bumpy road. Those conservatives want certain Biden administration officials, and maybe the president himself, impeached. McCarthy is unenthusiastic.

And when McCarthy tries to push through legislation, he’ll run up against a White House with very different ideas – and the power to stop him.

It’s looking as though Republicans could win a slim House majority, which means individual members or small blocs of members could wield disproportionate clout among Republicans.

“There’s no margin of error,” said Alex Conant, a Republican consultant, “and every member knows it.”


Here are five challenges McCarthy is about to face:

Can he become speaker?

It takes a majority, or 218, House members to become Speaker. Republicans may have as many as 230 seats in the next Congress, but indications are the number will be less.

Ultra-conservatives are grumbling about McCarthy, saying the party should have done much better on Election Day.

FreedomWorks, a conservative group with influence among some members, is urging the House to adopt a rule that would make it easier to unseat a speaker, meaning McCarthy would be a protest vote away from being toppled even if he gets the job.

Some members are talking about him not even advancing that far. “Kevin McCarthy has not done anything to earn my vote for speaker,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., told Axios this week.


Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, tweeted “Current Mood’’ atop a video titled “Speaker Jordan?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is in line to become Judiciary Committee chairman if Republicans win the House.

Other conservatives weighed in. “It’s time for House Republicans to organize a movement to block Kevin McCarthy as speaker,” conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted Thursday.

McCarthy has had trouble with the conservatives before. He was the favorite to become speaker in 2015 but dropped his bid amid concern he wasn’t a diehard conservative.

Since then, McCarthy has made strong efforts to convince the skeptics otherwise. In January 2021, after the Capitol insurrection, he said on the House floor that former President Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for the riot.

Two weeks later, McCarthy had a friendly meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and posed for a widely publicized photo with the former president.

Powerful House members


With a slim majority, “The House becomes like the Senate,” said Conant, where one member can effectively hold up legislation. McCarthy faces pressure not only from the right, but from the middle.

“If McCarthy goes too far one way he’s going to lose some people the other way,” said Christian Grose, academic director of the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute.

There is a smattering of Republicans in swing districts who would not be comfortable with sweeping abortion bans, infrastructure spending cuts and some gun control measures.

What does the public want?

The election’s mandate is unclear. Elections usually produce clear messages from voters, but the only thing clear from Tuesday’s voting is that the United States remains a 50-50 country.

It’s difficult enough to enact legislation even with a strong mandate; it took more than a year to pass Obamacare even though Democrats controlled Congress and the White House.


Even with that mandate, by the end of the first year, lawmakers start looking to the next election and became more wary of passing controversial measures, a common legislative pattern.

“It’s a fickle country and mandates can be very fleeting,” said Tevi Troy, senior fellow at Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center.


House Judiciary Committee Republicans last week issued a thousand page report alleging all sorts of problems at the FBI and Justice Department. GOP members are eager to learn more about presidential son Hunter Biden’s finances.

There’s also lots of impeachment talk. Jordan has said if the GOP wins the House, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “deserves” to be impeached. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sent the secretary a letter last month charging him with “gross dereliction of duty” because of how he’s handled immigration at the Mexican border.

There’s also talk of trying to impeach others, including Biden. McCarthy has not sounded enthusiastic, telling Punchbowl News last month, “I think the country doesn’t like impeachment used for political purposes at all.”


But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted last week about the impeachment of Biden and his allies, “This will happen. Not for political reasons. But because it must be done.”

It would take a majority to impeach. But it would take two-thirds of the Senate to convict and remove someone from office – a highly unlikely prospect.

That persistent debt ceiling

The one item that must win approval involves increasing the debt ceiling. The limit’s expected to be reached in mid-2023.

Republicans routinely say that raising the ceiling invites more spending while Democrats warn that not increasing the ceiling would trigger global economic chaos.

In 2013, a dispute over what to do led to a 16 day shutdown of much of the government. Republicans insisted on spending cuts before they would agree to an increase. .

Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington’s Brookings Institution, thought the Republican-led shutdown was overreaching. Another shutdown, he said, might look irresponsible.

“It wouldn’t make the Republicans look good,” he said.

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