The long assumption that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will become the next House speaker is no longer the safe bet it once was.
It’s not because Republicans are no longer favored to win control over the House.
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That’s still increasingly likely as American voters tire of out-of-control inflation and a looming recession threat.
It’s because a number of GOP lawmakers as well as influential conservative voices are now speaking out against McCarthy after explosive tapes leaked in which he blamed Donald Trump for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and even called out members of his own conference by name.
And it may be just enough to undermine any attempt for him to take the gavel come January 2023.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — who was specifically called out by both McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., in the leaked audio – shredded the pair in a statement released on Twitter.
“Rep McCarthy and Rep. Scalise held views about President Trump and me that they shared on sniveling calls with Liz Cheney, not us,” he wrote. “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
At the time, he said, both were defending Cheney over Trump.
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Cheney has since been ousted from party leadership and there have been calls to boot her from the GOP conference entirely over her Trump criticism. She is also facing a primary challenge in her home state of Wisconsin, with McCarthy publicly backing her opponent.
McCarthy has been embroiled in controversy in GOP circles since The New York Times released audio of him telling other Republicans in the days after the riot that he believed Trump was responsible and that he would urge him to resign.
He says he ultimately didn’t do that and was “just floating scenarios.”
Many within his conference have said they still support him, and he reportedly received a standing ovation from fellow House Republicans on Wednesday.
“I think President Trump is going to be the next president of the United States, and I think Kevin McCarthy is going to be the next speaker,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told NBC News.
Trump himself wasn’t offended either.
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“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”
But that could be masking a growing problem within the conference – because Gaetz isn’t alone in his criticism.
“[W]e have our leader that’s basically negotiating with Liz Cheney on whether he should encourage President Trump to resign or not becomes a huge, huge trust issue for me,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said on One America News.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., didn’t quite come out against McCarthy, but told Axios he may not be in McCarthy’s corner either.
“I’m the only guy or gal here who never voted for [former Speakers] John Boehner or Paul Ryan,” he said. “I only voted for Kevin once.”
McCarthy also has a problem on Fox News after Tucker Carlson slammed him this week over the audio, saying that McCarthy in private sounds more like an MSNBC contributor than a Republican.
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McCarthy as speaker, he said, “would mean we would have a Republican Congress led by a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Given Carlson’s influence among Republicans, that could lead to still more defections from McCarthy’s corner within his conference – votes he can’t afford to lose if the GOP wins a slim majority in November.
And that could lead to a free-for-all next January when it comes to deciding on the next speaker.
— Walter W. Murray is a reporter for The Horn News. He is an outspoken conservative and a survival expert.