Scroll to the top

Will a GOP House speaker be able to control an unruly caucus?

Three hands putting votes into ballot boxes with different colors beside the "Midterm Matters" tagline
Ari Winkleman

The US Senate race could go either way, but most pundits and polls point to the House of Representatives turning red after Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to flip that chamber, and they are on track to do just that, and then some. Indeed, most polls suggest a double-digit gain for the GOP – not a red wave per se but still a sizable win.

Noise: Much attention has been focused on the impending political fortunes of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican from California who is all but assured to become House speaker next year. In this role, McCarthy will be the leader of all proceedings in the lower chamber, where important business gets done, including government appropriations and impeachment proceedings.

Signal: After four years in opposition, Kevin McCarthy will be eager to take the gavel from current Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But Republicans are a divided tribe, and McCarthy will have his work cut out for him in keeping his caucus together.

This discord is in large part due to ongoing agitation from the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative bloc within the House GOP formed seven years ago in hopes of pushing the party further to the right. The bloc — currently made up of around 35 members — has already tried to alter House rules to give individual lawmakers more power.

Exactly how much power the caucus wields will depend on the size of the GOP majority, but McCarthy has already made clear that he’ll have to acquiesce to at least some of their demands. For example, while the Californian has been a proponent of aid to Ukraine, he has suggested that maintaining the current level of support may not be possible because “they just won’t do it.”

The two most recent Republican House speakers — John Boehner and Paul Ryan — were forced into early retirement due to ugly internal party politics. Will McCarthy be next?


Subscribe to GZERO's daily newsletter