House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership grew more complicated on Tuesday after a hard-right Republican announced his bid for the gavel next month, a move that could set off a messy floor fight and leave their party without a candidate who can win the 218 votes needed to become speaker.
Despite losing the House GOP Conference’s nomination to be speaker last month, Rep. Andy Biggs, the hard-right Arizona Republican and one-time leader of the House Freedom Caucus, announced he will be a candidate for the speakership when the full House votes on January 3.
“I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs wrote on Twitter. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”
To become elected speaker, McCarthy can only afford to lose four votes when the House meets next month. Last month when he defeated Biggs for his party’s nomination, McCarthy lost 31 votes despite winning 188. Now with Biggs’ candidacy, McCarthy detractors can vote for an alternative to run the new House, which will have 222 GOP seats.
If McCarthy can’t win 218 votes on the first ballot, it will go to multiple ballots until someone does – something that hasn’t happened in about a century.
Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, told CNN he won’t speculate about the possibility that he could emerge as a candidate for speaker on January 3 if McCarthy can’t get 218 votes to win the gavel.
“No, I’m not going to get into speculation,” Scalise said. “Obviously our focus is on getting it resolved by January 3. And there’s a lot of conversations that everybody has been having, Kevin, surely, with the members who have expressed concerns.”
“I think this is all theatrics,” said Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, a McCarthy supporter.
The move comes as the speakership fight has begun to overshadow their party’s plans in the majority, even as some in his conference have called on McCarthy to take a firmer stand on how he would run the House – including over raising the national debt limit – and as the California Republican on Tuesday night sketched out in lengthy detail on his website investigative plans for when Republicans get committee gavels and subpoena power next year.
In a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, House Republicans engaged in a back-and-forth over the speaker’s race, with McCarthy and his allies calling for the conference to come together over the speaker’s vote and his detractors pushing back, according to multiple GOP sources.
Even the time limits imposed at the microphones became an issue, as House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik and Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia had an exchange over the matter, according to a source in the room.
After the testy back-and-forth, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee attempted to bring some levity to the moment by joking that the only woman he lets disrespect him is his wife. He added that conference meetings are a waste of time and no one learns anything from them, a sentiment met with a round of cheers, sources said.
After the meeting, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia – a controversial conservative and close ally of former President Donald Trump – confirmed she spoke up in favor of McCarthy and said she is “sick and tired” of the so-called “Never Kevin” movement, even though some of them are her friends. She urged them to back down, saying they’re going to look foolish if the floor fight delays their majority.
Yet some Republicans were not persuaded.
In the meeting, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina told Republicans he wouldn’t be instructed over how to vote and that he would take the next 28 days and decide on his own, according to GOP sources. Norman confirmed his closed-door comments.
“It should be testy,” Norman told CNN. “We’re getting to elect the No. 1 job in the country.”
Rep. Chip Roy, the Texas Republican, defended the effort by hardline Republicans to extract concessions from McCarthy and potentially send the House speaker’s race into multiple ballots on January 3. Roy has not said how he would vote.
“It’s nothing new in our history,” Roy said. “This is normal, we’re having a debate, just like, by the way, the Democrats did last time, remember? I mean, there was an enormous discussion heading into the Speaker’s race in the last Congress about the Democrats” who were voting against Nancy Pelosi, though most ultimately did.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.