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Conservative firebrand launches another bid to block McCarthy from becoming speaker

Rep. Andy Biggs lost a bid for leader just three weeks ago. As conservatives try to prevent Rep. Kevin McCarthy from getting the 218 votes he needs to be speaker, Biggs is trying again.
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Three weeks ago, conservative Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., was defeated by GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy in their party’s private, internal vote for speaker of the House.

On Tuesday, Biggs said he’s launching yet another challenge to McCarthy for speaker — this time in the public vote on the House floor set for Jan. 3.

“I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs tweeted, linking to an op-ed in the conservative Daily Caller outlining his opposition to McCarthy. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”

The point of Biggs's second bid for speaker in as many months is not to win the coveted gavel — the former leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus has zero chance of winning over moderate Republicans who have clashed with his group in the past.

Instead, Biggs is aiming to give his colleagues an alternative to vote for on the House floor and to deny McCarthy the 218 GOP votes he needs to secure the speaker's gavel during the first vote of the new Congress next month.

“People are thrilled that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reign of Leftist extremism is ending. The question is whether we will be treated to the status quo that will move us along the same path, though perhaps more slowly,” Biggs wrote in his op-ed. “Will we elect an establishment Republican as the speaker — think Paul Ryan, or in this case, Ryan’s right-hand man, Kevin McCarthy.”

Republicans flipped control of the lower chamber in the November midterms, but because they will hold just a razor-thin margin over the Democrats, McCarthy can only afford to lose four GOP votes during the Jan. 3 roll call.

Democrats are expected to back their own leader for speaker, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and five conservative lawmakers are already on record saying they will not vote for McCarthy under any circumstance. 

A McCarthy spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But allies to the California Republican have vowed that McCarthy will take the fight to the House floor rather than quit his quest to be speaker like he did in 2015, when the same group of conservative rabble-rousers threatened his first speaker bid.

If Biggs and other conservatives can successfully block McCarthy from 218 votes — more than half of the total 435 seats in the chamber — it could throw the House into complete chaos. Because House business is essentially at a standstill until lawmakers elect a speaker, members will need to vote again and again until someone secures a simple majority of the votes.

The last time a speaker vote went multiple ballots was exactly a century ago. During a two-month stretch before the Civil War, the House was deadlocked on a choice for speaker, eventually holding 133 votes before settling on Rep. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts.

Some moderate GOP McCarthy allies say it would never reach that point. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., told NBC News last month that to avoid potential chaos he would be willing to cross the aisle and team up with Democrats to elect a consensus moderate GOP speaker.

Bacon repeated his threat to conservative "cowboys" during an appearance on C-SPAN on Tuesday, saying they "divide the team, weaken the team" at a time Republicans need to be unified.

"I'm one of the folks who are playing hardball back. We're not going to be held hostage by a small number of people that's going to hurt the team," Bacon said. "So we're going to stand up to this."

In his op-ed Tuesday, Biggs attacked McCarthy for his talks with the White House for a year-end spending package that would “bloat our national debt and extend until next October.” By striking a deal before Republicans assume the House majority in January, Biggs argued, “Leader McCarthy is about to eviscerate our leverage for the balance of the Biden presidency."

A past chairman of the Donald Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus, Biggs also knocked McCarthy for proposing a resolution to censure the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and for initially defending then-GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., after she voted to impeach Trump.

McCarthy later called on Cheney to resign from leadership and backed her Trump-endorsed primary challenger, Harriet Hageman, who ousted Cheney in the GOP primary in August.

“Here we have an establishment candidate for speaker of the House who circulated a censure resolution of Trump and protected Liz Cheney when the majority of the Republicans wanted to remove her as their leader,” Biggs wrote of McCarthy. “It wasn’t until she personally embarrassed him that McCarthy supported her dismissal.”

Another Freedom Caucus member and McCarthy foe, Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., has said it's time for Republicans to turn the page on McCarthy and move on to other candidates.

"It's in the best interest of the Congress and the country for [colleagues] to come out publicly to illustrate or demonstrate that he's not going to be speaker," Good told reporters. "He doesn't have the votes to get to 218; he's not going to get to 218.

"The number of public hard 'no' votes is going to just continue to increase," he said.