Congress remains in deadlock as insurgent Republicans continue to thwart Representative Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker. For a third consecutive day, a bloc of ultraconservative bomb throwers denied GOP leader Kevin McCarthy the speaker’s gavel Thursday, even after he caved on a set of concessions the right-wing Republicans were demanding.
It marked the eighth straight defeat for McCarthy, who has vowed not to drop his bid for the top job. While he still maintained support from roughly 90% of his GOP colleagues, the conservative rebels on Thursday banded together and were able to block McCarthy from securing the simple majority of the House needed to be elected speaker (a number that can shift).
Thursday was a repeat of the previous two days when the small group of rebels rejected McCarthy during six consecutive floor votes — all of them televised. Because Republicans won a paper-thin majority in November, it will take nearly all of their 222 members agreeing on a pick for speaker before any other House business can move forward.
While all 20 conservatives stuck together in opposition to McCarthy during Thursday’s votes, they backed different candidates for speaker. The majority continued their support for Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida for speaker, while two McCarthy opponents voted for Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, the incoming chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a leader of the so-called Never Kevins who have vowed never to support McCarthy, nominated and voted for former President Donald Trump
. (The speaker of the House does not need to be a member of Congress).
Fierce GOP infighting over who should be the next speaker has paralyzed the House of Representatives, preventing lawmakers from being sworn in, delaying staff hiring and stalling the GOP’s legislative agenda.
"I think it's bad, bad for the GOP brand," said moderate swing-district Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb, a McCarthy loyalist. "Folks out all over America aren't going to say, 'it's that 20.' They’re going to group us together."
While McCarthy allies and foes remained deadlocked, there were some real signs of progress heading into Thursday.
After the sixth failed vote Wednesday night, McCarthy and his most trusted allies huddled with his most fervent opponents for more than two hours in the first-floor Capitol office of Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn. Most emerged from the meeting saying there was incremental progress.
"I crawl before I walk, I walk before I run," a still-optimistic McCarthy told reporters after the meeting. "And I felt as though we had a very good discussion."
During the course of that private gathering, one of the conservatives' demands was met. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the McCarthy-aligned super PAC, and the conservative Club For Growth, which has opposed McCarthy's bid for speaker, announced a détente: CLF would not spend money backing candidates in open-seat GOP primaries in safe Republican districts; in return, Club for Growth backed McCarthy for speaker.
McCarthy also offered a package of key concessions to his right-wing detractors, including reinstating a rule that a single House member could force a vote to oust the speaker in the middle of the Congress, according to Gaetz. Earlier, McCarthy had agreed that a "motion to vacate" only could be made with support from at least five members.
“Anyone, anywhere, anytime,” Gaetz said about the power members will have to call for a vote of confidence in their speaker.
Gaetz said McCarthy has also agreed to place members of the far-right Freedom Caucus on key committees like the influential Rules Committee, which determines how a bill comes to the floor.
“We just talked. I’m not sure any needle’s been moved,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., one of the Never Kevins, said as he left the negotiations.
Talks between members of the two camps continued throughout Thursday, with one of McCarthy's opponents accusing the other side of leaking. "A deal is NOT done," Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who again voted against McCarthy Thursday, tweeted. "When confidences are betrayed and leaks are directed, it’s even more difficult to trust."
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a McCarthy ally and former chief deputy whip who attended the talks, characterized them as "very productive conversations" and said there appears to be "goodwill" around Republicans getting behind McCarthy.
"What we're talking about here are the type of trade-offs that the conference can bear and that the speaker can deliver," McHenry told reporters Wednesday night.
If he gives too much to the Freedom Caucus, McCarthy could alienate moderate allies whose support he needs to hold the fragile GOP coalition together. Some centrists scoffed at a conservative demand for subcommittee gavels for McCarthy holdouts.
"It's a nonstarter," said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., the outgoing head of the business-friendly Main Street Caucus. "For most of us, we work hard to get promoted in these positions by being a team player."
"To say, 'I'm going to vote for you if you give me a subcommittee chair'? We do not like that quid pro quo."