Andy Biggs Has A Plan To Ruin Kevin McCarthy’s House Speaker Dreams

WASHINGTON – What does it mean to break the establishment?

That’s what Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) says he’s doing by running for speaker of the House against Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“You change the trajectory of the country,” Biggs told HuffPost, describing his vision of establishment-smashing success.

“You democratize this body,” Biggs said. “You take it out of the hands of four people … and you put it in the hands of committee chairmen, you put it in the hands of committee members.”

In other words, Biggs and his right-wing colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus hope to force party leaders to share more power with rank-and-file members instead of deciding on bills behind closed doors and then putting them up for a vote without much member input.

But Biggs also described a less lofty, more immediate outcome: He’s going to screw up McCarthy’s speaker bid and somebody else will get the job.

McCarthy needs 218 votes to win when the House selects its speaker in January, and it will take as few as five Republican nays to thwart his victory.

Biggs, who has served in Congress since 2017 and was directly involved in former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, can’t get 218 votes, either. But he believes someone else will rise to the occasion.

“You’ll get a consensus center-right candidate to be the speaker out of the body,” Biggs said.

This is almost exactly how former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) became speaker in 2015, after far-right Republicans chased out Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). McCarthy had been speaker-in-waiting, but conservatives pledged to deny him victory when it came time to vote on the floor, just as they are doing now. So Ryan stepped in as a consensus center-right candidate.

But the story did not have a happy ending. Nowadays, conservatives are so disappointed in their former speaker that Biggs describes Ryan’s endorsement of McCarthy as a kiss of death from the dreaded establishment.

The entire idea of a center-right savior is “pretty fanciful,” former Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said.

“I would like to say these are not very imaginative people ― running the same play again,” he said. “There is already a center-right consensus candidate and his name is Kevin McCarthy. They are on an island. Deep out at sea.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) doesn't have enough support to become speaker. But he could steal votes from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) doesn’t have enough support to become speaker. But he could steal votes from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

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This time around, McCarthy’s not backing down. Thirty-one Republicans voted for Biggs in an internal party vote last month, and six have publicly pledged to oppose McCarthy when the full House elects its leader on Jan. 3 – enough to block his path. But the California Republican says he’s confident he’ll win and that the Biggs faction will settle for rules changes empowering conservatives.

Nobody else is officially running for speaker besides McCarthy and Biggs, suggesting a stalemate would occur. But Biggs predicted a palatable new candidate will emerge in January and said there have been some behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure that outcome.

“I would just say that people have quietly approached who are interested,” Biggs said.

A group of House Republicans founded the Freedom Caucus in 2015 partly as a response to Boehner kicking conservatives off committees for not voting how he wanted. But McCarthy has already said that he’ll restore Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to the committee seats that Democrats denied them because of their conspiracy theories and threatening behavior.

The big problem is that whoever is speaker automatically becomes part of the establishment and, if they want to keep the federal government running and paying its bills, will inevitably cut deals with Democrats. It’s hard not to be part of the establishment when you’re the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Greene, who is hoping McCarthy gives her a coveted seat on the House Oversight Committee, is one of several high-profile Freedom Caucus members who back McCarthy ― another difference between today and 2015.

“The Freedom Caucus is responsible for making Paul Ryan Speaker,” Greene said. “Is this group going to do something like that again?”

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