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Here’s who could become House Speaker if Kevin McCarthy isn’t elected

The House might or might not elect a speaker on Tuesday, and that speaker might or might not wind up being Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

The California Republican was in line for the post after his party won the majority in November. But the narrowness of that majority has jeopardized McCarthy’s status as presumptive speaker eight years after he first lost out on the job.

McCarthy needs a majority of House members present to vote for him, but five Republicans have said they are hard nos. Given the GOP’s 222-212 majority, that small group of holdouts could be enough to thwart his ascent.

It’s unclear, though, who can or will get the votes if McCarthy can’t. The holdouts haven’t lined up behind a viable alternative. (Some support one of their own in the group of five, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, but for all his efforts to gum up the works, he wouldn’t garner broad support from other members.)

So if this process winds up being prolonged through multiple ballots, who are the alternatives who might emerge? Nobody besides Biggs has publicly expressed interest, making this a difficult exercise. But below are some possibilities.

(We ran through a few possibilities last month; this list serves to update that one.)

The No. 2 House Republican is the most obvious and readily available stand-in if McCarthy can’t get over the line.

He’s a little more aligned with the party’s conservative wing, and he passed up challenging McCarthy to be the GOP’s official nominee for speaker. That could earn Scalise (R-La.) some goodwill from McCarthy loyalists — whose votes will be just as crucial as those from the House Freedom Caucus — if the party needs someone else.

But some of the resistance to McCarthy was sparked not by McCarthy himself but by leadership’s general unwillingness to change House rules to empower rank-and-file members. And Scalise is part of that leadership.

McCarthy has now made significant concessions; if that’s not enough for him to win, would it be enough for his second-in-command? It’s logical to think there could be at least a few holdouts on Scalise, too, and the winner simply can’t afford many. If all House members vote and nobody votes “present,” the winner would need the votes of all but four House Republicans. Maybe it’s easier for Scalise to get over the line if McCarthy falters, but it’s not assured.

One of the holdouts, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), has pushed for the Ohio Republican to seek the job. And Jordan challenged McCarthy for House minority leader after the 2018 election.

Jordan would make sense if the GOP decides that it wants the most combative speaker possible — the kind of Republican who will take the fight to Democrats at every turn. Republicans routinely feature Jordan at key committee hearings for a reason.

But the House Freedom Caucus founder could struggle to win over more moderate Republicans, who might worry about what that approach would mean for the institution — or for the GOP’s electoral prospects.

When in 2005 the North Carolina Republican joined the House at age 29, some saw him as a potential future speaker. Among those who would later predict that outcome: former House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), under whom McHenry served as chief deputy whip.

“McHenry’s going to be the speaker one day,” Boehner mused to reporter Tim Alberta back in 2017.

McHenry could appeal to the rabble-rousers as someone who was once one of their own early in his career. And his experience in leadership and reputation as a serious, policy-oriented legislator could appeal to party moderates and those who might worry about installing a novice in the job.

This is a left-field option for one main reason: While the rules don’t require the speaker to be a sitting member of the House, it has never been anyone else. And Zeldin’s House tenure ends today, after his unsuccessful but spirited challenge to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) — a performance many credit for the GOP having a very good day in New York, if not nationally.

Zeldin’s name has repeatedly cropped up among the holdouts. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) has reportedly raised it privately. Gaetz has done so publicly. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) has suggested the holdouts might line up behind a nonmember. And Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) effusively praised Zeldin while talking about the speaker’s race, while later clarifying that he wasn’t pushing Zeldin for speaker.

It’s still unlikely, but Zeldin’s stock is high in the GOP right now. And there’s an argument to be made that he would be an attractive alternative if the House GOP decides (or is forced to) think outside the box — and outside the chamber.

Few in the House GOP are as broadly respected as the Oklahoma Republican. And if the name of the game is finding someone — anyone — who appeals to all portions of the party, Cole could be the answer.

CNN suggests Cole would be more of a caretaker for the job, until the GOP can find more of a long-term solution. But he’d probably run into opposition from many of the same people who oppose McCarthy.

Stefanik represents somewhat of an inverse of McHenry. When she joined Congress in 2014 as the youngest woman ever elected, she was relatively moderate and staid. But in recent years she has gone full MAGA.

That latter approach means she could run into some of the same roadblocks as Jordan. And even some Freedom Caucus types have to be asking themselves who Stefanik really is. But she does bring both experience in GOP leadership and a recent track record that could appeal to the bomb-throwers in a way nobody else would.

McCarthy and his allies have floated this scenario: If he can’t get enough voters and the GOP struggles to find someone who can, Democrats could join with a handful of more moderate Republicans to elect the speaker. “If we play games on the floor, the Democrats could end up picking who the speaker is,” McCarthy said.

That would be a calamity for the GOP, and it’s much more likely Republicans would ultimately unite behind McCarthy than let it get to that point. McCarthy and his allies have reason to invoke this possibility because it’s an argument for supporting him — and there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s a bluff.

But if the holdouts truly won’t budge — who knows?

In that scenario, the most likely pick would seem to be a more moderate, establishment-oriented Republican. Exactly whom that might be isn’t at all apparent, but some have floated a candidate in the mold of outgoing Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Some McCarthy allies have suggested such a process could result in outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) becoming speaker, but that seems even less likely.

Again, it’s all very improbable. The GOP has all kinds of motivation to ultimately pull it together if members initially struggle to find a candidate.

But we also know certain members have shown they’re willing to hamstring the party to make a point.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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