Top US Republican Kevin McCarthy was chosen Tuesday as his party’s leader in the House of Representatives — putting him in prime position to become speaker if his camp reclaims control of the chamber as expected.
The 57-year-old congressman from California, a senior member of House Republican leadership since 2014, was elected by secret ballot — fending off a challenge from Andy Biggs, a member of the influential far-right Freedom Caucus.
But potential far-right defections could yet complicate his path when the full chamber votes in January.
Having failed to wrest control of the Senate from President Joe Biden’s Democrats in the November 8 midterms, Republicans are currently on track to take control of the House.
But they will probably hold a wafer-thin majority when the 118th Congress is sworn in early next year, with votes from some races still being counted.
McCarthy now begins what is expected to be a gruelling campaign to win the consequential floor vote on January 3, when the House of Representatives’ 435 newly elected members — Democrats and Republicans — choose their speaker, the third most important US political position after president and vice president.
McCarthy has been weakened by Republicans’ underperformance in the election, as a “red wave” predicted by conservatives failed to materialize.
Any internal dissent or defections in his camp — including a write-in effort for speaker by a party rebel like Biggs — could severely complicate McCarthy’s ascent.
The party’s conservative wing has already made clear it will set conditions before supporting McCarthy.
In 2015 McCarthy narrowly failed in his bid to become speaker, and the position went to Paul Ryan.