House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the favorite to win over a majority of his colleagues in a secret-ballot vote Thursday afternoon to select the Republican Party’s nominee to replace Speaker John Boehner.
But that’s just the first battle: McCarthy will still need to get 218 votes on the House floor when the full body votes on its speaker on October 29. And a big enough group of Republicans to prevent that from happening have said they are prepared to stymie his chances unless they get some concrete promises in place before then.
The three Republican candidates for speaker — McCarthy, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Florida Rep. Daniel Webster — gave closing pitches and answered another onslaught of questions from the entire Republican conference Thursday morning over a Chick-fil-A breakfast. Lawmakers inside the meeting said it was a good back-and-forth.
“All of them made pretty good pitches, there was nothing very emotional, nothing divisive,” New York Rep. Peter King told reporters as he left the meeting in the basement of the Capitol.
“It’s a lot of people who are asking questions that they have on their mind, and the mood is very serious and thoughtful,” said Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. “Nobody is trying to talk anybody off any ledge, there are some people who asked some tough questions.”
Chaffetz noted that Thursday was only the beginning of a process of unifying the party — as he acknowledged he is running an underdog campaign.
“I am trying to bridge the gulf and the divide and that’s not just going to end today,” Chaffetz told CNN as he left the meeting. “There is healing that needs to go on. There are new processes and things that we have to do to get this team even more unified than it was in the past.”
When the conference votes Thursday afternoon, the speaker nominee will only need a majority of his colleagues’ support to move forward. But that candidate can only lose 29 Republicans to manage 218 votes on the floor, and a key block of influential conservatives, the House Freedom Caucus, pledged Wednesday to all back Webster. That collection of more than 30 votes, per caucus member Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, could prevent McCarthy from winning speaker on the first ballot.