- WASHINGTON POST
Signs of a possible deal emerge in House speaker fight
12:03 JST, January 6, 2023
WASHINGTON – For the third day in a row, Republican infighting over the speakership brought the House to a standstill, even as warnings mounted over the increasing consequences of not having a functioning lower chamber of Congress.
“We’re still stuck at the starting block,” John James (R-Mich.) said Thursday morning as he renominated Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and pleaded with his colleagues to unite. “The American people have told us by putting a Republican majority here that they want Republicans to lead and they want a government that works and doesn’t embarrass them – and we are failing on both missions. That must change today.”
But signs of a deal began to emerge late Thursday after holdouts appeared to be swayed by the latest offer McCarthy made to them roughly 24 hours earlier. After hours of negotiations on the floor that led to four repeated failed votes for McCarthy, the impasse seemed to lessen – at least for the moment.
According to three sources familiar with the deal, several holdouts are on the verge of agreeing to it and will vote in favor for McCarthy, though when that might happen remained unclear. The expectation is that though McCarthy will not get all the votes necessary to become speaker, it will show considerable momentum for him.
After “phase one” is completed, “phase two” will begin, as both conservative Republicans and moderates aggressively apply pressure to the holdouts that remain until they can find a pathway for only four to vote against McCarthy – the threshold he needs to get 218 necessary to become speaker.
Through four rounds of voting Thursday – as with the six ballots that took place earlier in the week – McCarthy again failed to gain enough votes to become speaker. The ninth failed vote meant the 118th Congress would surpass the number of votes held a century ago – the last time such a stalemate over the speakership occurred – when it took the House nine ballots to elect a speaker in 1923.
The stalemate continued despite McCarthy making fresh concessions during late-hour negotiations Wednesday to the 20 GOP lawmakers opposing him, according to four people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
In a major allowance to the hard-right Republicans, McCarthy offered to lower from five to one the number of members required to sponsor a resolution to force a vote on ousting the speaker – a change that the California Republican had previously said he would not accept.
McCarthy also expressed a willingness to place more members of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which debates legislation before it is moved to the floor. And he relented on allowing floor votes to institute term limits on members and to enact specific border policy legislation.
The proposed rule changes represented a stunning reversal that, if adopted, would weaken the position of speaker and ensure a tenuous hold on the job.
However, negotiations were still ongoing as the 10th ballot got underway, and it quickly became apparent that whatever headway had been made Wednesday night and Thursday morning was still being debated.
“Hold the line!” Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the 20 holdouts, tweeted Thursday morning, even as McCarthy was assuring reporters that he was “making progress.”
People familiar with the negotiations had anticipated that McCarthy’s concessions could move people going into Thursday morning, but ahead of the first ballot of the day, McCarthy signaled to allies that he knew the votes would not change until a firm deal is reached between the factions, according to two Republicans who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing ongoing conversations.
After the dueling Republicans factions met with their allies across the Capitol complex Thursday morning, it became apparent that while a deal had not been struck, no group was rejecting McCarthy’s latest proposal either. Getting to yes would require the Republican holdouts and McCarthy allies to discuss and negotiate face-to-face behind closed doors right off the House floor, even though that has meant McCarthy losing 10 straight ballots.
On the seventh through the 10th ballots, the same 20 GOP lawmakers who had opposed McCarthy all week voted against him once more – mostly uniting behind Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) in opposition. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has vowed never to support McCarthy, on Thursday proffered the name of former president Donald Trump when it came time to cast his vote for speaker. On the eighth ballot, Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), another “Never Kevin” hard-liner, voted for Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who appeared to be caught off guard and laughed at the surprise nomination.
“We aren’t gaining any momentum with Donalds,” Boebert said afterward. “We need a true consensus candidate that can unite the Republican Party. I believe that Kevin Hern is that man to do it. He’s the chairman of the largest caucus in our Republican conference and he was unanimously elected. He’s a businessman and a leader, a principled man. And that’s important.”
Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) voted “present” four times Thursday, continuing to signal to her colleagues that they needed to reach a consensus before she resumed voting for McCarthy.
Throughout the day, McCarthy recognized that the impasse would continue “until an agreement comes.”
On the way back to the floor ahead of the ninth ballot, he remarked, “We’re working on it.”
During the Wednesday huddle in the office of whip Tom Emmer (R-Mo.), moderates Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), David Joyce (Ohio) and Dusty Johnson (N.D.) met with holdouts Chip Roy (Texas), Donalds and Scott Perry (Pa.), with Emmer, McCarthy and Jim Jordan (Ohio) also on hand.
According to sources familiar with the meeting, the small gathering became a therapy session of sorts as members opened up about the deep frustration that led them to air their grievances publicly in a contentious closed-door conference Tuesday.
With feelings settled a bit, members thought they were restarting on a firmer ground of trust and understanding to discuss several concessions. The holdouts made their pitch that they would not misuse the motion to vacate if it were set to one person, noting that the spectacle of ousting a speaker when Jordan is in the middle of an oversight investigation or during a presidential campaign would make no sense.
Moderates, who had pledged never to support the rule change, have taken the holdouts at their word – but warned that if it is misused, they could band with Democrats and use a procedural maneuver called a discharge petition to circumvent the Rules Committee and GOP leadership to force a floor vote on bipartisan measures.
Other concessions such as changing the budgetary rules and voting on 12-year term limits for House members were also under consideration. But until all factions signed off and commitments were written in stone, members would continue to vote in the same way through Thursday.
House Democrats, meanwhile, remained united behind caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), who consistently received 212 votes on all ballots. When Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) nominated Donalds again for speaker, he told the chamber, “Yesterday we could have elected the first Black speaker of the House.” Democrats responded with a standing ovation and chants of “Ha-Keem! Ha-Keem!”
A chaotic energy permeated the House throughout the morning and afternoon as Republicans met with their respective factions. Unlike during the previous two days, McCarthy stayed out of his seat and spoke to as many members as possible Thursday, the center of a flurry of shuttle diplomacy on the floor.
Perry nearly missed his vote on the seventh ballot because he was making a television appearance on Fox News. Only after a frustrated lawmaker went to retrieve him – shouting, “You’re gonna miss the vote!” – did Perry make it back into the chamber to cast his vote for Donalds.
Tensions remained high Thursday, as frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aired their grievances. One Republican member recalled another GOP colleague telling them, “I wouldn’t piss on them if they are on fire,” referencing the anti-McCarthy holdouts.
Republican Don Bacon (Neb.) tweeted that he had been informed he could not communicate with his staff regarding active casework because he had not yet been sworn in.
“The handful holding up the speaker election is not helping Americans but directly hurting them,” Bacon wrote.
House Democrats continued to warn of the dangers of having an impotent branch of government, placing the blame squarely at the feet of the Republican Party.
“The historic dysfunction that we are seeing, this intraparty that the American people have been drawn into is imperiling our national security,” Democrat Katherine Clark (Mass.) said. “It will imperil the ability of this government to deliver basic services. It is imperiling our jobs and our responsibility to serve our constituents. But it is also entirely predictable.”
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