Per Pergram-Capitol Hill
Perhaps the most-important event in the race to succeed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) comes tonight at the Capitol Hill Club, just down the block from the U.S. capitol.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will make their respective appeals to some of the most-conservative blocs of Republicans in the House. The Tea Party Caucus, The House Freedom Caucus, the Conservative Opportunity Society, and the House Liberty Caucus will all meet tonight at 7:30 pm et (or a little later, depending on floor votes) to listen to each candidate.
McCarthy clearly has the lion's share of support in the now-247 member House Republican Conference. But House Rules require an absolute majority of the entire House voting on the floor to become Speaker. So, if McCarthy or any other member say secures a simple majority in the Republicans' closed door conclave to tap a Speaker candidate on the floor (124 backers and higher), that person is presumably who the GOP will run on the floor. McCarthy is believed to have anywhere from 170-200 backers. But that is FAR from an absolute majority of the entire House. Generally, 218 is considered the magic number to win on the floor…although that figure could be slightly lower on October 29, the day of a Speaker election.
McCarthy and all candidates face a major, uphill battle getting to 218. There is a bloc of rebellious GOP’ers who simply won't vote for any conventional figure for Speaker because that's what their districts dictate. There could be votes for members besides those candidates officially in the race. That could suppress the vote total.
However, McCarthy is well thought of among rank-and-file GOP’ers and this window of time, starting with tonight's meeting, gives him a chance to close the deal.
That said, if McCarthy or anyone else comes out of Thursday's nominating conclave with fewer than 218 votes, but is the "GOP nominee" for Speaker on the floor, that result gives us a yardstick to see how far they have to go to get to 218.
This debate is further complicated by the need to raise the debt ceiling by November 5. Conservatives are already agitated for McCarthy voting for the stopgap spending bill last week to avoid a government shutdown. That measure funded Planned Parenthood. Chaffetz and Webster voted no.
Various GOP’ers say it's one thing to SAY they're conservative. It's another to actually vote a given way. Conservatives may try to extract a promise from McCarthy and others to either NOT raise the debt limit (which is a big problem) or get some sort of a deal to make MAJOR spending cuts. Another possibility could be a promise not to bust the mandatory set of budget cuts imposed under sequestration. Boehner has already said they would must the caps. The deadline on that issue may be a little later, perhaps tied to the December 11th shutdown date. But either way, this puts all of these issues on the table and could further complicate the chances getting an agreement if the successful candidate cuts a deal with conservatives (which may resonate with them) but does little to get an operational deal with the Senate/Democrats/White House on the debt ceiling/funding government/broader budget deal.
Keep in mind Boehner is technically expected to step down on October 30th. The House CANNOT conduct any business without a Speaker. There is a slight precedent here for a resigning Speaker to actually stick around for a bit. In 1989, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) announced his resignation amid ethics allegations in late May. The House took a few days to promote then-House Majority Leader Tom Foley (D-WA) to Speaker. There was little question that Foley would assume the gavel from Wright and Foley won the vote on the floor. However, to make sure there was an orderly transition, Wright remained the Speaker for a few days into early June before making his resignation effective. Only then was Foley sworn-in as Speaker.
Based on this precedent, it's possible that Boehner COULD actually linger for a bit, especially if there is a deadlock on the floor for Speaker. And ironically, that MIGHT make it easier for the House to deal with the debt ceiling hitting November 5th. Boehner could then cut a deal and pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling with lots of Democrats and some Republicans (ala last week's vote to sidestep a government shutdown). Then, whatever agreement Boehner arranged doesn't wash up on the leg of any of the Speaker candidates. Again, that scenario only comes to pass if the vote for Speaker remains at an impasse.