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Who are the alternatives to be House speaker if McCarthy withdraws? A look at possible names

(WASHINGTON) — House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy is still struggling to corral the necessary votes to become speaker as a minority of his conference puts up a series of protest nominees against him, insisting he grant their demands for more influence, reshaping how the House is run and what Republicans prioritize.

The chamber cannot conduct any other other business until a speaker is chosen. Lawmakers resumed voting for a seventh time after returning from adjournment Thursday at noon.

Across six rounds of voting over two days, neither McCarthy nor the alternatives — Andy Biggs, Jim Jordan, Byron Donalds — have so far unified the party in the House, where 218 votes are needed to win if every lawmaker votes. McCarthy has gotten no more than 203. The others no more than 20.

McCarthy has vowed to fight on until he wins the support needed. His critics have called for him to step aside.

The historic limbo — the first time in 100 years a speaker vote failed — puts a spotlight on possible alternatives to become one of the most powerful legislators in the country and second-in-line to the presidency.

Some of the options seem much more likely than others.

Steve Scalise, R-La.

Scalise, a member of House GOP leadership and McCarthy’s No. 2, has been loyal to the Californian and nominated him for the speakership before the third round of voting, on Tuesday.

However, the Louisianan is considered by some lawmakers to have more consistent conservative credentials than McCarthy during his 14-plus years in office.

Sources familiar with the dynamics told ABC News earlier in the week that Scalise remains committed to McCarthy but that he could be open to stepping in if McCarthy falters in his speakership bid. The people added that some of McCarthy’s “no” votes could be more comfortable voting for Scalise.

Scalise has extensive experience dealing with other House Republicans, having chaired the Republican Study Committee and serving as both majority and minority whip, a job meant to ensure that members vote together on legislation.

Scalise gained national prominence after he survived a shooting in 2017 during a practice for that year’s Congressional Baseball Game. He was shot several times and severely injured, ultimately undergoing a lengthy recovery process.

Jim Jordan, R-Ohio

Jordan, an archconservative co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, played a role in pushing out Republican Speakers John Boehner of Ohio and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — and was part of the resistance to McCarthy’s failed 2015 speakership run after Boehner stepped down.

However, he and McCarthy have since formed a strong alliance, particularly after McCarthy promised him the chairmanship of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, from which he could launch several investigations into the Biden administration.

Jordan has insisted he does not want to be speaker and plans to run judiciary, nominating McCarthy in the second round of voting, on Tuesday.

“We need to rally around him, come together, and deal with these three things, because this is what the people sent us here to do,” he said then, referring to a focus on oversight, lowering government spending and more. “We owe it to them, the American people, the good people of this great country, to step forward to come together, get a speaker elected so we can address these three things. I hope you’ll vote for Kevin McCarthy and that’s why I’m proud to nominate him for speaker of the House.”

Jordan would likely face some difficulties winning over Republican moderates if he were to emerge as a major contender for speaker.

Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.

Stefanik, elected in 2014, was a backbencher for the early part of her time in Congress. A staunch Donald Trump defender, she saw her star rise when Republicans grew disillusioned with former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican entering 2021, continually lambasted Trump over that year’s insurrection, a focus many GOP lawmakers complained was a distraction. Cheney was ultimately booted from leadership and lost her primary in 2022.

Stefanik, who had boasted a more moderate voting record than Cheney, tacked right and won the leadership slot to replace Cheney. She is now one of the most prominent Republican women in the House.

But it’s unclear she would be different enough from McCarthy, whom she has strongly supported, nominating him on the first ballot Tuesday.

Byron Donalds, R-Fla.

Donalds, another member of the House Freedom Caucus, was first elected in 2020.

He ran against Stefanik for her role as the Republican conference chair and lost. He was nominated by Chip Roy, R-Texas, during the first round of voting Tuesday and again during the first round of voting Wednesday.

Roy noted that meant that, along with Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, both parties had now named Black nominees for speaker.

“There’s an important reason for nominating Byron, and that is this country needs a change. This country needs leadership that does not reflect this city, this town, that is badly broken,” Roy said Wednesday.

But unlike other options in the race, Donalds is relatively new to the House — about to begin his second term.

Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

McHenry’s name has quietly surfaced as a possible alternative as he awaits to be sworn in for a ninth term.

The North Carolinian is a former GOP chief deputy whip and ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Still, McHenry has been a vocal supporter of McCarthy, and it’s not clear if he’d be willing to step into the void if McCarthy were to drop out of the speakership race.

Fred Upton, R-Mich.

Upton, who just left Congress, has been floated as a potential compromise candidate for speaker between Democrats and moderate Republicans if McCarthy bows out of the race.

Upton, a centrist in his party, voted to impeach Trump after the 2021 insurrection and would likely struggle to round up significant support from Republicans.

Most Democrats have also signaled little appetite to help Republicans elect a speaker given that the ongoing stalemate delays conservative priorities from being implemented.

An Upton win is very unlikely and would be unusual, as he is no longer a member of Congress. But the Constitution doesn’t specify the speaker has to be in the House to be chosen. Upton has not ruled out the idea, telling The Detroit News that it’s “an intriguing suggestion that I have not rejected.”

Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Jeffries, the Democratic leader, has consistently received all 212 votes in his caucus during the speaker votes — something his party has touted as unity, compared to Republicans.

But to actually become speaker, he would need to reach an agreement with a handful of Republicans (likely five or six), essentially creating an unprecedented coalition government that would empower the party that just lost in the midterm elections.

The sharp political differences between the parties would be a major obstacle to this.

Justin Amash, L-Mich.

Amash has been seen on the House floor amid the voting. A founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus who left the Republican Party in 2019 to become an independent and then a libertarian, he was the first member of Congress to call for Trump to be impeached.

He spoke to reporters on Wednesday at the House, saying he was there to pitch himself as a consensus speaker candidate if needed — a proposal he said he would share with lawmakers.

Amash’s unorthodox politics, and the fact that he is no longer in Congress, would make him a difficult figure to rally a majority of the House.

Other names: Could Trump be speaker?

Several other Republicans have had their names tossed out, including Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Kevin Hern, R-Okla., and Jim Banks, R-Ind.; former Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.; and Trump, who got a vote for the first time on Thursday — from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

None of those lawmakers are anticipated to actually wield the speaker’s gavel and Trump, in particular, would almost certainly never receive a single Democratic vote or support from some moderate and blue-state Republicans, let alone be inclined to assume the role.

As with Upton or Amash as alternatives, Trump-as-speaker would be possible because the Constitution doesn’t specify that the person be a current member or member-elect. The House is thought to technically be able to chose whomever it wants as speaker.

The fact that any of these names are being bandied about underscores the unpredictability of the speakership contest and some cracks in unity among the McCarthy renegades.

ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, Benjamin Siegel and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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