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Republicans endorse McCarthy for speaker in a crucial test for the embattled GOP leader

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks briefly with reporters before heading into House Republican caucus leadership elections in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on November 15, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy won the support of a majority of his own caucus Tuesday in an internal party election to choose its nominee for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The results of the secret ballot vote were 188 votes for McCarthy and 31 for his challenger, Rep. Andy Biggs, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who challenged McCarthy from the right.

In order to formally become Speaker of the House in the new Congress that takes power in January, McCarthy will need to win at least 218 votes in the full House of Representatives.

Typically, the chosen nominee of the party that holds the majority would win this full House vote for Speaker, but it’s not guaranteed. If McCarthy’s Republican opponents band together and don’t vote at all, the he could come up short of 218.

Republicans have yet to officially win enough congressional races to clinch the majority, but on Tuesday morning it was difficult to see how Democrats could prevail in the districts where vote counting is still ongoing.

McCarthy has been preparing to assume the Speaker’s gavel since shortly after Election Day, when he announced “transition teams” made up of his allies to smooth the GOP takeover of the House majority.

McCarthy is well liked within his caucus, and he has aligned himself with former President Donald Trump, earning him credit with some on the far right of the GOP.

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Rep. Majorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., endorsed McCarthy’s bid for Speaker on Monday, telling former Trump adviser Steve Bannon that not endorsing him could fracture the party.

“It’s very, very risky right now to produce a leadership challenge, especially for Speaker of the House, when [Democrats] are going to open the door and allow Liz Cheney, possibly to become speaker,” she said on Bannon’s streaming TV show, War Room.

Under House rules, anyone can be elected Speaker, even if he or she is not a member of the House. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her Republican primary earlier this year, a loss caused in part by her very public break with former President Donald Trump, who won Wyoming by 43 points in the 2020 presidential election.

McCarthy’ challenger, Biggs, said Monday that the leader “does not have the votes needed to become the next Speaker of the House and his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion.”

Biggs cited the GOP’s disappointing results in the midterm elections last week, when they had been widely expected to win the majority by at least 20 seats. On Tuesday, NBC News was projecting that Republicans would win the House by only two, with a three seat margin of error.

“The promised red wave turned into a loss of the United States Senate, a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, and upset losses of premiere political candidates,” Biggs said in a statement Monday. “My bid to run for Speaker is about changing the paradigm and the status quo.”