GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker may really be in peril

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "seems to have a math problem in his quest to become House speaker," Eric Ting writes at SFGate. If Republicans win the last two uncalled House races, McCarthy's Republicans will have a 222-213 majority in the House. "That means McCarthy can suffer only four Republican defections in the speaker vote scheduled for Jan. 3," and five House Republicans have said they are hard no's, Ting adds. "If all five remain steadfast in voting against McCarthy, he's toast."

McCarthy can count, too. "If we play games on the floor, the Democrats could end up picking who the speaker is," he warned Monday on Newsmax.

The fact McCarthy felt the need to warn about this "rather fanciful hypothetical," in which a group of moderate Republicans joins with Democrats to pick a mutually agreeable speaker, appears "to say plenty about how imperiled he views his ascent," Aaron Blake and JM Rieger write at The Washington Post. But a lot depends on how committed his far-right GOP critics are in their quest to sink his speaker dreams again — as they did in 2015. 

If five anti-McCarthy Republicans abstain or vote "present" instead of for another Republican, McCarthy would still have enough votes to become speaker. 

The problem for McCarthy is that "a growing list of House Republicans is threatening to not vote for him," Politico reports. One definite "no," Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), said Monday he counts roughly 20 "pretty hard no's" in the GOP caucus. enough to "prevent Kevin from getting the speakership." (Blake and Rieger assess the strength of the no votes at the Post.)

House Republicans are meeting Wednesday to discuss their rules for next year's majority, and the Freedom Caucus — the font of resistance to McCarthy — has several demands. McCarthy "must balance the appearance of acquiescing to some conservative demands while also ensuring that whatever ground he gives doesn't undercut him if he does become speaker," Politico reports

The threat of Democrats and moderate Republicans banding together to pick a speaker is one reason prominent hardliner Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is sticking with McCarthy — she floated the idea they would pick outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) for the position. But even that scenario didn't dislodge no-voter Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). "There are definitely at least five people, actually a lot more than that, who would rather be waterboarded by Liz Cheney than vote for Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House," he told The Charlie Kirk Show.

Kevin McCarthy