The House Republican conference voted for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to be its leader after an underwhelming midterm election performance launched a search among conservatives for a challenger.
The vote puts McCarthy in line to be the next speaker of the House, presuming Republicans win at least three more seats of the 16 that have not yet been projected by CNN.
McCarthy won 188-31 against Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, according to multiple sources in the room. It was a secret ballot, and McCarthy only needed to earn a simple majority of the conference.
While Biggs’ challenge was always viewed as a long shot, the number of Republicans who voted for him underscored the level of frustration with the Republican leadership following the 2022 elections. In January, McCarthy must win 218 votes, a majority of the entire House, to wield the speaker’s gavel.
Three House Republicans — Kat Cammack of Florida, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — nominated McCarthy for leader, arguing that he has worked harder than anyone, and that party unity is the only path to victory. McCarthy received a standing ovation after his election.
Biggs, a former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, announced on Newsmax on Monday night that he would run against McCarthy, while acknowledging it would be “tough” to beat someone who has “raised a lot of money” to elect his colleagues.
“This is not just about Kevin,” Biggs said on Monday. “I think it’s about institutional direction and trajectory.”
Biggs was nominated Tuesday by Texas Rep. Chip Roy and South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, who asserted that the House GOP conference needs to change the way the House operates.
Other roles in House GOP leadership were also decided. The No. 2 House Republican, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, won his election to serve as House majority leader without facing any opposition.
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And Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, the National Republican Congressional Committee chair, defeated Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Drew Ferguson of Georgia to be the House majority whip.
Before Biggs’ announcement, McCarthy and Scalise attempted to quell the tensions vibrating within the party on Monday. McCarthy met with several members of the House Freedom Caucus, and Scalise apologized at a meeting to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz for privately criticizing him in the immediate wake of January 6, 2021, according to sources in the room.
Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson said he’ll support McCarthy for leader, noting the GOP gained House seats the last two elections. “He’s done a good job,” said Simpson.
“There were factors beyond what Kevin McCarthy could deal with that affected this election,” he added.
Some members of the far-right appeared assuaged.
“If we don’t unify behind Kevin McCarthy, we’re opening up the door for the Democrats to be able to recruit some of our Republicans,” said Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Even before Biggs jumped in the ring, House members predicted that McCarthy would face a challenger who would expose that the California Republican does not currently enjoy enough support to become speaker next year.
McCarthy makes pitch behind closed doors
During a closed-door leadership candidate forum on Monday, Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a McCarthy critic, complained that a Super PAC aligned with McCarthy opposed some pro-Trump candidates, and criticized McCarthy for not calling to congratulate him when he won his primary, according to a source in the room. McCarthy replied that he directed $2 million to Good for his race. Good had to be gaveled down in order to cut him off from speaking so they could move to the next question, the source said.
At the private intraparty meeting, McCarthy also received a standing ovation from his colleagues. McCarthy promised that he would strip away power from Democrats, saying, if elected, he would kick Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff off the House Intelligence Committee, according to a source in the room. And he underscored his role in returning Republicans to power.
“They don’t give out gavels in small, medium, and large – we have the majority and we have the gavels,” McCarthy said at the meeting.
At one point, Gaetz asked McCarthy if he would try to solicit or accept speaker votes from any Democrats. McCarthy told him “no.”
But McCarthy’s allies have recently attempted to convince moderate Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar to switch parties in hopes of padding their slim margins, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. Cuellar flatly rejected the idea. (McCarthy’s spokesman said the GOP leader was not involved if these conversations took place and said this is not in any way part of their strategy for the majority or for his speakership bid.)
Gaetz, Good and Texas Rep. Chip Roy said on Monday that McCarthy does not have the votes he needs to become speaker.
“What I can tell you as I stand here right now is that Kevin McCarthy does not have 218 votes to become speaker,” said Gaetz. “I don’t think he has 200.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN”s Kristin Wilson and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.