Kevin McCarthy could imminently lose the title of Speaker of the House, as a vote to be called on the issue Tuesday appears to have enough Republican support to pass the lower chamber.
As lawmakers emerged from caucus meetings and spoke to reporters Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill, two things quickly became clear: Mr McCarthy does not have the support of enough Republicans to prevent the election of a new speaker, nor has he offered Democrats anything they would consider sufficient to bail him out for the second time in a single week.
Speaking to reporters, Mr McCarthy conceded that an effort led by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz likely had the support of at least five Republicans — enough to pass the measure.
“If five Republicans go with Democrats, then I’m out,” Mr McCarthy said at a gaggle.
“That looks likely,” quipped a reporter in response.
“Probably so,” he acknowledged.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, meanwhile, informed journalists that he was advising members of his caucus to vote against Mr McCarthy as well as any effort to delay the votes.
The embattled House speaker is now facing an uncertain path ahead. He could choose to stand once again in the election to be called upon his ouster, and seek control of the GOP caucus once again by cutting deals with Republican hardliners — or simply through attrition, by forcing vote after vote until they give up.
Mr McCarthy could also choose to step aside and allow a moderate ally of his with more credibility and standing among the far right to take his place. Mr Gaetz has already floated Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, as one he could support.
What appears to be certain, however, is that Mr McCarthy will not erode his image further among House Republicans by cutting deals with Democrats to save his speakership. That had been floated as a likely possibility given that he had just done exactly that on Saturday to keep the government from shutting down, while a majority of his caucus voted against him.
Now, the future of House GOP leadership remains as unclear as it was in January, when Mr McCarthy ascended to the throne after repeated failed votes by the House Republican caucus to elect a speaker.
Mr Gaetz, for his part, has trashed the GOP leader in public interviews and private caucus meetings over going back on promises he made to Republican hardliners for deep spending cuts in January. His criticisms echo those of Joe Biden, who has similarly bashed the speaker for abandoning a different (and conflicting) pledge he had made with the White House.
“Look, the one thing everybody has in common is that nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Mr Gaetz told CNN over the weekend. “He lied to Biden, he lied to House conservatives. He had appropriators marking to a different number altogether. And the reason we were backed up against the shutdown politics is not a bug of the system. It’s a feature.”