McCarthy passes first test in speaker bid. Now comes the hardest part.

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WASHINGTON — House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy easily defeated conservative Rep. Andy Biggs to win the GOP nomination for Speaker of the House.

But that was the easy part for McCarthy.

The 188-31 secret ballot behind closed doors illustrates what his conservative enemies have been saying over the past week: McCarthy failed to get the 218 Republican votes needed to win the gavel on the House floor on Jan. 3, the first day of the new congress.

The California Republican has his work cut out for him. He now has seven weeks to try and win over some of those recalcitrant conservatives who cast a protest vote for Biggs. The Arizona Republican and former leader of the far-right Trump-aligned House Freedom Caucus only announced Monday night that he would challenge McCarthy.

Image: Representative Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., attends a forum at FreedowmWorks headquarters on November 14, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

NBC News has not yet projected which party will control the House, although the NBC Decision Desk estimates that the Republicans will end up with 220 seats and the Democrats with 215, with a margin of error of plus or minus three seats.

If that estimate is correct, it probably means that McCarthy will have to flip some of those “no” votes to reach the magic number of 218. Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Biggs and others in the group are demanding that McCarthy make concessions to house rules and process changes before pledging their support to him.

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“Minority Leader McCarthy does not have the votes needed to become the next Speaker of the House and his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion,” Biggs said in a statement.

Other Leadership Races

In other leadership races, Rep. Louisiana’s Steve Scalise elected majority leader by vote; he ran unopposed for the No. 2 job in leadership.

And Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina is expected to lead the campaign arm of the House GOP, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), in the 2024 cycle. His challenger, Rep. Illinois’ Darin LaHood pulled out of the race at the last minute on Monday, endorsing Hudson.

The three-way race for GOP whip has generated the most buzz within GOP circles.

Dramatically defeated Rep. Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, the NRCC president this cycle, Rep. Jim Banks, of Indiana, the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, on the second ballot in a 115-106 vote. It was a remarkable win considering that Emmer had survived the first round of voting by a single vote. On that first ballot, Banks led by 82 votes, Emmer was second by 72 votes, and Rep. Georgia’s Drew Ferguson, the deputy whip leader, received 71 votes.

With Ferguson eliminated, Emmer was able to squeak through to win the job of top GOP vote counter.

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In the race for the No. 4 post, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York was re-elected as GOP conference chair, defeating Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a member of the Freedom Caucus and one of four black Republicans who will serve in the House of Representatives next year. The number of votes was 144-74.

Stefanik remains the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.

The ‘red wave’ that wasn’t

Heading into the November 8 midterm elections, McCarthy and Republicans were jubilant, predicting that a “red wave” would flip dozens of seats in the House and sweep the GOP to the majority by a wide margin. A year earlier, McCarthy had predicted his party would flip as many as 60 seats by 2022.

Instead, the Democrats won the major governors’ races in Arizona and Pennsylvania, retained control of the Senate, and cut losses in the House, leaving Republicans absolutely baffled.

Conservatives are now blaming GOP leaders such as McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for the disastrous interim results. And they want McCarthy to agree to a series of rule changes that would weaken the power of the next speaker and give regular members more control.

Specifically, they want McCarthy to reinstate a rule to make it easier to force a vote to evict an incumbent speaker — something known as a “motion to vacate.” McCarthy probably won’t agree to that proposed change, but he could support other reforms, such as requiring bills to pass through committee before being taken to the floor, allowing amendments to any bills that come up for discussion, and giving members more time to read bills. before being voted on.

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One thing McCarthy has going for him is the support of some influential figures in the Republican party. Former President Donald Trump, who is expected to announce a 2024 presidential bid later Tuesday, has endorsed his longtime ally, McCarthy, as speaker. So does Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a Freedom Caucus member who is extremely popular among grassroots conservatives.

McCarthy also received support from one-time rival, Rep. Ohio’s Jim Jordan, who challenged him for minority leader in 2018 and led the Freedom Caucus in 2015 when the group derailed McCarthy’s first failed bid for speaker.

In the years since, McCarthy courted Jordan and other conservatives with plum orders and other offers. The GOP leader helped Jordan win the top Republican spot on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which Jordan will appoint to chair if Republicans take control of the chamber.

In an interview Tuesday, Jordan said he hoped his Freedom Caucus colleagues could strike a deal with McCarthy in the coming weeks that would pave the way for his speakership.

“I think hopefully they can come to an agreement and we’ll get there,” Jordan told NBC News. “The most important thing for Republicans is that we stay united so we can stop the madness of the Biden administration. I am focused on that.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com