As Republicans gear up to take control of the House, GOP leader Kevin McCarthy is facing a longshot challenge in the race for speaker from hard-right Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs.
McCarthy has defeated the Arizona congressman before – by a resounding vote of 188 to 31 in November when the House Republican conference voted for McCarthy to be its leader.
But the longshot challenge has still complicated McCarthy’s effort to become speaker and threatens to draw support away from the GOP leader in the critical vote.
The full House is set to vote to elect the next speaker when the new session of Congress convenes on Tuesday, January 3.
Republicans are now bracing for the possibility of a messy floor fight. That’s because if McCarthy isn’t able to lock down the support he needs to win in the initial round of voting, the race could go to multiple ballots – something that hasn’t happened since 1923.
To be elected speaker, a candidate needs to win a majority of members who vote for a specific person on the House floor. That amounts to 218 votes if no member skips the vote or votes “present.”
Republicans will hold 222 seats as they take over the House majority, leaving a razor-thin margin for McCarthy who can’t afford to lose more than a handful of votes.
Despite losing to McCarthy in the November internal House GOP election, Biggs announced he would run for speaker in early December. “I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs wrote on Twitter at the time. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”
Biggs was just reelected to his fourth term in the House, representing Arizona’s 5th District which lies on the eastern outskirts of Maricopa County outside of Phoenix. He served as the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus – a group of some of the most right-leaning members in the House – from 2019 to 2021.
Biggs was also one of several Republican lawmakers referred to the House Ethics Committee by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol after the members did not comply with the panel’s subpoenas.
Biggs called the referral a “political stunt” in response to the news.
“This referral is their final political stunt. It’s inappropriate to use the House Ethics Committee—a committee with more pressing matters to attend to—to help reach the J6 Committee’s pre-determined conclusions,” he said in a statement.