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If McCarthy withdraws, other alternatives could become viable for speaker, source says

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as he leaves the House of Representatives floor after the House voted to adjourn for the evening  on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as he leaves the House of Representatives floor after the House voted to adjourn for the evening on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

If Kevin McCarthy steps aside, House Republicans could quickly coalesce around another candidate who could easily get the 218 votes needed to become speaker, according to a Republican opposing McCarthy’s bid for speaker who spoke with Yahoo News.

Republicans have repeatedly floated top House Republican Steve Scalise as a likely alternative to McCarthy, R-Calif., although Scalise, R- La., and his allies have repeatedly beat back those rumors, saying they’re with McCarthy. A Scalise spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Republican opponent to McCarthy said other candidates could include top McCarthy deputy Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., former Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., and others supporting McCarthy now — even though none of McCarthy’s supporters have expressed any interest in challenging him for speaker.

The central reason that the 20 or so House conservatives opposing McCarthy could get behind alternatives even more moderate than McCarthy boils down to trust — something other Republicans have repeatedly said is the biggest hurdle for McCarthy despite the repeated concessions he’s made in his continued effort to win the speaker’s gavel.

“He tells one person one thing then does another; he tells another person something then does something else. Is that personal?” the Republican opponent to McCarthy told Yahoo.

From left: U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Rep. Patrick McHenry. R-N.C., and Rep. Jim Banks., R-Ind.
From left: U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Rep. Patrick McHenry. R-N.C., and Rep. Jim Banks., R-Ind. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

A McCarthy spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Friday morning. Other Republicans supporting McCarthy’s bid also tamped down talk of an alternative, telling Yahoo News that no serious discussion of alternatives has emerged.

The stalemate, which has crippled the U.S. House of Representatives through the opening week of 2023, headed into a fourth straight day Friday with no clear sign of anything changing.

Through 11 votes, opposition to McCarthy has vacillated between 19 and 21 Republicans, while his support has remained steady at just over 200 votes — still well shy of an estimated 218 votes he would need to become speaker.

McCarthy hosted a teleconference call with Republicans Friday morning, shortly before lawmakers were set to return for what could be a 12th vote for speaker at midday. McCarthy sounded optimistic, according to reports, and has not made any indication that he would step aside despite the continued standoff.

"I'm not telling you we have an agreement, I am telling you we are in a good position,” McCarthy said on the call, according to a Politico report.

Ahead of the expected vote on Friday, McCarthy told reporters that he managed to flip “some” anti-McCarthy votes, though it’s unclear how many and whether it will make a difference. “We’ll have improvement, we’ll see,” he said.