WASHINGTON — The Republicans opposing Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become the next House speaker generally have made their mark as part of the GOP’s ultra-conservative wing, eager to pick a fight with leaders from both parties and rarely finding major bipartisan bills to be a good thing.
Most are members of the House Freedom Caucus, a hard-right group that also had strained relationships with former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
“They can’t tell you what they’re for. They can tell you everything they’re against. They’re anarchists. They want total chaos. Tear it all down and start over. That’s where their mindset is,” Boehner once told Vanity Fair.
Still, most members of the Freedom Caucus do support McCarthy’s bid. Those who do not say they are fighting for their constituents and aiming to change a legislative process that gives most members of Congress no meaningful role beyond voting yes or no on a final product.
The McCarthy holdouts say they want more opportunities to amend bills and have extended debate, and they want to restore the ability of any lawmaker to force a vote on whether to remove the future speaker, which they argue creates accountability.
A look at some of those leading the fight against McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership:
The early ringleaders
— Bob Good of Virginia won office in 2020 after GOP voters ousted the Republican incumbent, Denver Riggleman, who had angered social conservatives by officiating a gay marriage. Riggleman subsequently went to work as a senior staff member on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and wrote a book about it.
Good, a former athletics official at evangelical Liberty University, was one of the first to say he would be opposing McCarthy.“Everyone supporting Kevin McCarthy, or at least voicing their support for Kevin McCarthy is doing so in their own selfish political interests,” Good said after Tuesday’s raucous, closed-door GOP conference meeting. “Everyone who is opposing Kevin McCarthy is doing so in conflict with their own selfish political interest. And they are doing so because they believe it’s right and they believe it’s important for the country.”
— Matt Rosendale of Montana is entering his second term in the House and says his constituents are lobbying him to change the leadership in Congress. He has backed former President Donald Trump’s false statements about fraud in the 2020 election and recently voted against U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, citing what he said are more pressing security needs along the southern border.“I’ve said all along I’m not going to be supporting anyone for speaker that has played a part in the leadership team that has managed the demise of our country over the last 10 years,” Rosendale said.
— Andy Biggs of Arizona not only challenged McCarthy in an initial, internal GOP vote for House speaker, but he was also a nominee himself in the first round of voting Tuesday. He gained only 10 votes.
A former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Biggs filed articles of impeachment in the last Congress against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. McCarthy took up the cause in his push to become House speaker, saying that if Mayorkas didn’t resign, GOP-led investigations could lead to impeachment proceedings.
Biggs was also one of four lawmakers referred to the House Ethics Committee after they defied subpoenas from the House panel that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
— Scott Perry of Pennsylvania was one of the other Republicans who got a subpoena from the Jan. 6 investigative panel and was referred to the Ethics Committee when he declined to answer the committee’s questions. The panel was investigating meetings some lawmakers, including Perry, had with the White House as Trump and his aides conspired over how to overturn his defeat.
Perry was cited more than 50 times in a Senate Judiciary Committee report outlining how Trump’s effort to overturn his election defeat to Joe Biden brought the Justice Department to the brink of chaos and prompted top officials there and at the White House to threaten to resign. The report said Perry contacted a department official to say officials weren’t doing their job with respect to elections. Perry is the current chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
— Lauren Boebert of Colorado is a conservative firebrand whose combative style has helped define the new right. The one-time owner of a gun-themed restaurant relishes fights on social media. She noted that “her favorite president,” a reference to Trump, has called on the anti-McCarthy holdouts to “knock this off,” but suggested an alternative.
“I think it actually needs to be reversed. The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,’” she said Wednesday on the House floor, prompting loud “oooh” from many colleagues.
— Matt Gaetz of Florida is a close ally of Trump who broke with him early when it comes to McCarthy. The House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into Gaetz in April as federal prosecutors probed sex trafficking allegations against him. Gaetz has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“If you want to drain the swamp, you cannot put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise,” Gaetz said of McCarthy.
‘This is not personal’
— Chip Roy of Texas once served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief of staff before winning election to the House. He has been nominating alternative candidates for speaker such as Jim Jordan of Ohio and Byron Donalds of Florida.
Most of Roy’s concerns are about the legislative process, noting that the House floor is nearly empty for most debates and members haven’t been able to offer amendments there for years. While Roy said progress had been made with McCarthy in negotiations over House rules, “we do not have the tools or leadership yet to stop the swamp from rolling over the American people.”
“This is not personal,” Roy said. “It’s not.”