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Breaking Down The Race For The Speaker's Gavel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I want to dig into this a little more so we're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

MARTIN: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So it looked like Kevin McCarthy, the current majority leader, was on a pretty good path to get the promotion to speaker. Does that now seem seriously in doubt?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: That's what's bad news for Kevin McCarthy in what's just happened. It's not so much because Jason Chaffetz is so formidable. It's more because it breaks down the inevitability scenario by which Kevin McCarthy was supposed to glide into the speakership. Chaffetz is much more credible as a challenger. And what's more, if Chaffetz develops some momentum, it could mean that other candidates will get in as well.

MARTIN: Is it a possibility that they might not get anybody who can aggregate enough votes? 'Cause you really need - what? - you need almost the entire caucus. Isn't that right?

ELVING: That's the real problem. It's not just a matter of getting most of the Republican Party. McCarthy has that. But when we get to the floor of the House with actual election of the speaker, you need 218 votes. That means even a small group of Republicans - say 30 Republicans - could deny the speakership to one of their own if they chose to rebel. And that's exactly what happened to John Boehner and drove him out of office.

MARTIN: Help us figure out how to watch this in the coming days. You know, should we be looking to see signs that they might actually delay the vote?

ELVING: They could well delay the vote. There's no magic in the date of October the 8. They need a new speaker when John Boehner leaves at the end of the month. So they may well delay the vote if they think that the situation is going to make them look bad. There's a chance that they'll just vote for speaker and not for any of the other offices on Thursday because of this chaotic situation that they're in. But the main question here is, first of all, who gets the most votes among the Republicans. That person becomes, in a sense, the presumptive nominee for speaker. And will the rest of the Republicans then accept that and vote for the team captain, if you will, when we get to the actual speaker vote because if they won't, then we have to go back to the drawing board and find another Republican who possibly could.

MARTIN: Interesting. So let me turn now, before we let you go, to something a little bit lighter. Last night, Hillary Clinton made a guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live." This is Hillary Clinton playing a bartender talking to Kate McKinnon, who portrays Clinton on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

PRES CAND HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (As Bartender) It really is great how long you've supported gay marriage.

KATE MCKINNON: (As Hillary Clinton) Yes, I could've supported it sooner.

CLINTON: (As Bartender) Well, you did it pretty soon.

MCKINNON: (As Hillary Clinton) Could've been sooner.

CLINTON: (As Bartender) Fair point.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I love that little beat there. What do you make of it?

ELVING: Hillary Clinton is not going to become a comedienne, but, you know, she was pretty relaxed. She was pretty funny. And she seemed like somebody you could actually have a conversation with who could poke fun a little bit at herself. So it's clearly a positive for her. At the same time, there's going to be a lot of notice that "Saturday Night Live" was a good deal more sympathetic to her in this particular instance than they were, say, to Sarah Palin back in 2008 and some other politicians they might not have liked as well.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.