The House Republican majority hit the ground running in the first weeks of the 118th Congress, passing several GOP-sponsored bills and establishing committees that will investigate the Biden administration over the next two years.
But the legislative work came only after the conference elected Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker, a process that stretched four days and 15 ballots after a coalition of conservative Republicans refused to back McCarthy out of the gate, forcing him to give up a number of concessions to win over their support.
The protracted Speaker’s race and early legislating have offered a glimpse into which Republicans will hold power in the 118th Congress — and how they could wield it.
Here are the House GOP power players to watch.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
McCarthy’s election to Speaker cemented him as the leader of the House — and House Republicans — for the 118th Congress.
As Speaker, McCarthy decides what bills come to the floor for a vote, allowing him to shape Congress’s agenda, as well as frame the GOP’s message through legislation intended to please its base that have little to no chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
McCarthy also has significant influence over the Republican Steering Committee, which determined committee chairmanships and assignments for the GOP conference. And McCarthy had the power to select the chair of the House Administration Committee, a position for which he tapped his close ally, Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.).
But McCarthy’s power was diluted during the Speakership fight when GOP holdouts negotiated several concessions that empowered rank-and-file members of the conference.
At the top of that list is the single-member motion to vacate the chair, which allows just one lawmaker to force a vote on ousting the Speaker. The mechanism was used to force former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and the House Freedom Caucus
Perry and the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which he chairs, flexed their muscles during this month’s Speakership fight, forcing a number of concessions from McCarthy and indicating that they will continue working to push McCarthy and the GOP conference to the right.
After voting against McCarthy on the first 11 ballots, Perry threw his support behind the California Republican on the 12th, bringing with him 13 other GOP lawmakers — a number of whom are members of the caucus.
In addition to the single-member motion to vacate the chair, the group also got more members on the House Rules Committee and agreements to hold votes on congressional term limits and a border bill.
The next showdown could come over the debt ceiling, when the Freedom Caucus is expected to make a full-court press to cut federal spending and decrease deficits in an effort to balance the budget. Conservatives say such assurances were included in Speaker negotiations.
But the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House are unlikely to get on board with spending slashes, putting McCarthy in a tough spot.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas)
Roy, a rank-and-file member of the Freedom Caucus, emerged as a key participant in this month’s Speaker election.
The Texas Republican, who voted against McCarthy on the first 11 ballots, was instrumental to helping strike a deal between the GOP leader’s allies and holdouts that marked a significant step towards the California lawmaker winning the gavel.
He secured concessions for which he had long pushed, including the single-member motion to vacate the chair, the 72-hour rule to consider a bill, banning House GOP leadership and affiliated PACs from getting involved in open-seat primaries, increasing the number of Freedom Caucus members on the House Rules Committee and creating a committee to target “weaponized government.”
Roy was also one of the lawmakers who said the debt ceiling should not be raised without a plan to limit spending, and he asked that “must-pass” bills be used as leverage to pass conservative priorities — two requests that he will likely keep pushing for as the session progresses, and ones that could put McCarthy and moderates in a bind.
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and James Comer (R-Ky.)
Jordan and Comer are poised to be key players in the 118th Congress as they take on the reins of two committees that have vowed to conduct a number of probes into the Biden administration.
Jordan heads the Judiciary Committee and Comer holds the gavel for the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Both panels hit the ground running this month by taking a microscope to the discovery of Obama-Biden era documents bearing classified markings at President Biden’s home and an old office.
Jordan’s Judiciary Committee launched an investigation into the matter, requesting information from Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Comer’s Oversight Committee has requested information from the White House and the University of Pennsylvania, after documents were found at Biden’s old office at the Penn Biden Center.
Jordan is also set to chair the newly created select subcommittee aimed at investigating the “weaponization of the federal government,” which is preparing to scrutinize departments and agencies probing former President Trump — such as the Department of Justice and the FBI.
That assignment will give Jordan access to the same information shared with the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)
Greene’s power in the 118th Congress skyrocketed on Tuesday when she secured assignments on the Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Homeland Security Committee, putting her on the path to serving on panels after she was stripped of her assignments in 2021.
But even before that, she emerged as one of McCarthy’s fiercest advocates during the race for the gavel.
After announcing in 2021 that he did not have the full support to be Speaker, she argued in November that any challenge to the California Republican would be a “bad strategy.” She also had a prime seat at McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” rollout back in September.
And when the House was on the brink of adjourning in the early hours of Saturday morning after McCarthy failed to win the Speakership on the 14th ballot, Greene stepped in to try and save the day by putting the remaining holdouts on the phone with former President Trump, who earlier had urged all members of the conference to support McCarthy.
On Wednesday, she called herself “the leading MAGA voice in Congress.”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and other Republican moderates
With the GOP’s slim 222-212 majority in the House, some moderate Republicans could team up with Democrats to circumvent McCarthy and bring must-pass legislation directly to the floor for a vote — including when dealing with raising the debt ceiling.
Some middle-of-the-road Republicans are already floating the possibility.
“The discharge petition will only take myself and four of my colleagues on the GOP side to side with Democrats if that is necessary to circumvent that,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview on CNN during the Speaker’s race.
“The reality is, it’s a tight margin. It’s a four-vote margin in the House. In many ways, that is [a] good thing; that’s an opportunity for a lot of cross aisle collaboration,” he added.
Discharge petitions are mechanisms that allow a majority of the House chamber to bring legislation to the floor for a vote without help from the Speaker. The bill, however, must have been referred to committee for at least 30 legislative days, and it must be on the calendar for at least seven legislative days, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Then a member who signed the discharge petition can call up the measure within two legislative days.
McCarthy’s allies will be key players in the 118th Congress as the California Republican works to keep his conference united to pass bills in the narrowly-split chamber.
A group of GOP allies — including Reps. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Garret Graves (La.) and French Hill (Ark.) — were key players in negotiations with McCarthy holdouts to help the California Republican secure the gavel. After McCarthy’s losses on the early ballots, his allies asked the GOP leader how they could help unite the conference.
In the final moments before McCarthy won, McHenry was among the Republican lawmakers engaging with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in an effort to convince him to switch his vote.
In a press conference after winning the gavel, McCarthy thanked McHenry, Graves, Hill and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) for helping push his bid past the finish line.
Those allies will likely play a similar role throughout the 118th Congress since Republicans can only afford to lose four votes on bills, assuming all Democrats vote “no.”
Bonus round: anyone can be a power player if you have at least four allies
The current breakdown of the House chamber — 222 Republicans, 212 Democrats — means any GOP lawmaker can become a power player if they rally enough support within the conference.
Republicans can only afford to lose four members on votes, assuming all Democrats vote in opposition and all members cast a vote, meaning any group of four or more GOP lawmakers can hold up legislation brought to the House floor.
This state of affairs was on full display during the Speaker race, when a coalition of 20 GOP lawmakers — just a little more than 4 percent of the entire chamber — dragged out the Speaker’s race and delayed the beginning of legislative business.
Even when the number of McCarthy holdouts shrunk to six — a mere 1.4 percent of the House — the group had power and held up the election.