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Whip count: Here’s how much trouble Kevin McCarthy is in

The Post’s JM Rieger breaks down how a narrow Republican House majority could deliver or block the House speakership from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
7 min

This post has been updated with the latest comments from the McCarthy holdouts.

Kevin McCarthy was passed over once before for House speaker, back in 2015, amid a revolt from the party’s right wing. And so far at least five House Republicans have signaled they’re opposing McCarthy for speaker. Given the GOP is likely to have a 222-seat majority — four more than the 218 votes needed to control the House — that means McCarthy could be just shy of the majority of votes he needs on Jan. 3 to become speaker.

There are many variables here, including how these members might register their discontent. If they didn’t vote for an alternative — if they vote “present,” for instance — their protest votes would effectively only count half as much. And a candidate doesn’t necessarily need 218 votes, but rather a majority of those casting a ballot for an actual candidate. The death of Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) doesn’t immediately change McCarthy’s math, but other members are absent or vote present, the threshold would also be lowered. (For more on the entire process, see here.)

But for now, it’s worth drilling down on just how firm McCarthy’s opponents are and what their beefs are. As things stand, we count five Republicans as indicating they’re against McCarthy, with all five indicating they won’t vote “present.”

If those five are truly committed to actually voting against McCarthy (and all Democrats cast ballots), they could kill McCarthy’s shot at becoming speaker — again.

Here’s how we break it down. And we’ll continue to update this list as new comments come in.

Who could be speaker, if not Kevin McCarthy

Hard nos (3)

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.): Biggs is the House Freedom Caucus member who stepped forward to challenge McCarthy when the GOP conference chose its leader and candidate for speaker earlier this month. The opposition got just 31 votes — to McCarthy’s 188 — but Biggs has signaled he’s not done fighting McCarthy. In an op-ed two weeks ago, he wrote that “it is time to make a change at the top of the House of Representatives. I cannot vote for the gentleman from California, Mr. McCarthy.” Spokesman Matthew Tragesser assured The Washington Post on Tuesday: “He is a hard no. He will not vote for McCarthy under any circumstance.” And Tragesser added that it’s “not a possibility” that Biggs would vote “present": “He plans to vote for himself.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.): Good had spoken out against McCarthy before the conference vote too. And while we previously saw some wiggle room in his statements, he was unequivocal in a recent interview with Stephen K. Bannon. Bannon asked him whether there was anything McCarthy could do to earn his vote, and Good responded, “No, sir, because we can do better. … We have to have a new speaker.” He added that “there are more than enough of us who have resolved not to vote for him.” And Good told Axios on Tuesday that he “will be voting for an alternative candidate” — as in, not “present.” He said he plans to vote for Biggs.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.): Gaetz was the first one to come out against McCarthy hard, even long before the House GOP conference chose McCarthy as its leader and nominee for speaker. Gaetz said before the conference vote: “I’m not voting for Kevin McCarthy. I’m not voting for him tomorrow. I’m not voting for him on the floor.” Puck News went on to ask Gaetz whether there was any concession that could change his mind, and he reportedly responded with a flat “no.” Gaetz also told The Hill that he won’t vote “present": “Never voted ‘present’ in my life. Don’t plan to start now.”

Not-quite-so-hard nos (2)

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.): Norman has cited McCarthy’s refusal to adopt the Republican Study Committee’s plan for the budget and has repeatedly said he’s a firm no. “I’m not going to support Kevin McCarthy,” he told Just the News. He later told Politico that he is a “hard” no. But Norman has now suggested to CNN that his opposition might not be quite so hard. "I will vote for Andy for speaker, subject to what we’re discussing,” he said after visiting McCarthy’s office in early December. Norman added: “All this is positive. We’re having good change, regardless of what happens. And you’ll see more of it.”

Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.): Rosendale has highlighted an issue for many Freedom Caucus types: the idea that the House rules don’t empower the rank and file enough. “We need a leader who can stand up to a Democrat-controlled Senate and President Biden, and unfortunately, that isn’t Kevin McCarthy,” Rosendale said. That would seem to leave open the possibility that McCarthy could make the kind of changes Rosendale needs. But Rosendale’s office indicated he’s mostly firm. A spokeswoman told Puck that Rosendale would vote for McCarthy only under “extreme circumstances.” Gaetz dismissed the idea that it would come to that, though, saying that if people think Rosendale or Norman could flip, “Those people don’t know Ralph Norman and Matt Rosendale.” Rosendale told The Hill that he won’t vote “present,” either.

Possible nos worth watching

This isn’t an exhaustive list, as many haven’t weighed in. But some Freedom Caucus types have indicated they’re not committed to McCarthy, and seven of them sent a letter laying out their requests for how the House conducts its business. (The letter did not mention McCarthy or include them threatening to vote against him.)

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.): Some have lumped Roy in with the five members above — and he did nominate Biggs at the conference vote — but he hasn’t addressed his Jan. 3 plans as directly. In a lengthy House floor speech after the conference vote, he criticized the Senate GOP for keeping Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on as its leader, but he didn’t address McCarthy as directly. Like Rosendale, he has focused like a laser on changing House rules, but he also called McCarthy a “friend” and said he has “been engaging and will continue to be engaging in good faith.” Roy signed the letter linked above.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.): After the conference vote, Higgins declined to commit to voting for McCarthy and suggested the party doesn’t need a repeat of its years under Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), whom he criticized for cutting too many deals.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.): Perry told The Hill recently, “I’m not making my position known. I do have an open mind, but I also see what’s happening.” He also signed the letter.

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.): Appearing on conservative radio, he said: “Well, I will tell you that you’ll know that on January the 3rd. We’re still having negotiations.” He signed the letter.

Rep. Barry Moore (R-Ala.): He told The Hill he’s not a hard no and added, “We won’t really know until Jan. 3 how things shake out.”

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.): Signed the letter.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.): Signed the letter.

Rep.-elect Andy Ogles (R-Ind.): Signed the letter.

Rep.-elect Eli Crane (R-Ariz.): Signed the letter.