WASHINGTON — California Republican Kevin McCarthy was discussing more concessions to the holdouts in his party Thursday evening, but any progress being made behind closed doors had yet to manifest on the House floor as he lost the 11th ballot in an increasingly bitter GOP impasse over picking a U.S. House speaker.
Lawmakers-elect then voted to adjourn until noon Friday. That vote, just after 8 p.m., was 219-213, with all Democrats trying to keep the House in session and all but one Republican voting to take a breather.
Reporters pressed McCarthy on how much longer the process could drag on, but he would not provide a timeline and indicated the back-and-forth between members just represents life with a super-thin majority.
“The entire conference is going to have to learn how to work together, so it’s better that we go through this process right now,” McCarthy said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
He also pushed back on the idea that his power — should he win the speakership — would be undermined after agreeing to reinstate the “motion to vacate” that could then be used to remove him.
“That’s the way it’s always been except for the last speaker. I think I’m very fine with that,” McCarthy said. “… I would only be a weaker speaker if I were afraid of it. I am not a weak. I won’t be a weak speaker.”
Richmond Republican Troy Nehls nominated McCarthy on the 9th ballot, saying McCarthy has been the House Republican leader for the past four years and enjoys “overwhelming support” within the conference.
Nehls described himself as a proud member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and called for an end to the Republican-on-Republican fighting. He said the 20 members who have been voting for candidates other than McCarthy have been able to express their concerns and have many of them addressed.
“This motion allows us, the Republican conference, to hold the speaker accountable,” Nehls said.
Republicans have been entrusted with the House majority because Americans want a change of direction, he said, adding that McCarthy understands their priorities.
“We must secure our southern border, we must unleash our energy sector and become energy independent,” Nehls said. “We must curb inflation by … reducing spending. And we must support our law enforcement officers, folks. We’ve got to get crime under control.”
But his entreaties were in vain.
McCarthy made no progress on the seventh through 11th ballots as 20 defectors continued to cast their votes for people other than their party’s leader in roll call after roll call.
Matt Gaetz of Florida became the first this week to cast votes for Donald Trump for speaker.
It has never been done, but there’s nothing in the Constitution barring a non-member from serving as speaker. The former president has endorsed McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, but that support has — so far — failed to sway the conservative members blocking McCarthy.
Among the Republicans in McCarthy’s way are three Texans: Chip Roy of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria and Keith Self of Plano.
The other 22 Texas Republicans elected to the House in November have stood by McCarthy, while the state’s Democrats are united behind their new leader in the chamber, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Republican Pete Sessions of Waco said on CNN there were rumblings that headway was being made on a deal, one that could win over at least some of the holdouts but possibly not enough to get McCarthy over the top.
“At some point, there’s going to have to be a reality check by all of us about what we think,” Sessions said.
Roy could be seen dashing between votes on the floor and the negotiations. Speaking to reporters, he declined to commit to bringing over a certain number of holdouts.
“Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to make this place better,” he said. “And then we’ll see where everybody lands in terms of their votes. That’s all I can do.”
CNN and other outlets reported McCarthy is willing to change the House rules to allow a single member to call for a vote to remove the sitting speaker, a key demand for some of his opponents.
McCarthy also would agree to have the House vote on measures such as congressional term limits and allow more of the body’s most conservative members to serve on the Rules Committee that controls the flow of legislation and dictates terms of floor debate.
Cloud said this week that the fight, for him, has always been about process rather than personality.
“This is about putting Congress on the right path, making the structural reforms needed to fix how this place works for the American people,” Cloud said. “So who the speaker is has always been, to me, secondary to us as a conference coming together and agreeing on those things, those processes that are going to make this place work.”
But it was telling that Cloud would not commit to supporting McCarthy even if he agrees to all of the rules changes being sought by the holdouts. Instead, Cloud said his votes would “speak for themselves.”
‘We’ll get through this’
Cloud said the two sides have worked for months to reach an agreement and have made progress. But he said that progress relies on trust that has been eroded this week. And he downplayed the impact on most people in the country.
“Sometimes, people here feel like we’re the center of the world,” he said. “And the work we do is important; I’m not making light of it. But most Americans are still going to wake up tomorrow and go to work. And we’ll get through this.”
McCarthy failed to reach the necessary 218 votes to become speaker on three consecutive ballots Tuesday when the 118th Congress convened.
He failed on three more on Wednesday before a wild floor vote to adjourn went down to the wire. Amid a flurry of late votes and much shouting, Republicans were able to adjourn until 11 a.m. CT Thursday.
Roy has been a prominent figure in the fight and delivered an impassioned nominating speech for Florida Republican Byron Donalds. He and the other Texas holdouts voted for Donalds repeatedly during Thursday’s ballots.
The standoff has led to increasing tension inside the Republican ranks. Pat Fallon of Sherman and Dan Crenshaw of Houston are among those who have blasted holdouts and suggested they are motivated by personal political ambition.
Crenshaw has vowed not to vote for any candidate other than McCarthy because he says they can’t let the “terrorists” win.
“There is no alternative” to McCarthy, Crenshaw said on Fox News during the 9th ballot. “They don’t have a consensus candidate. It’s inaccurate to say that McCarthy is losing momentum here. It’s completely the opposite. … We will wait this out. We are far more stubborn than the other side [because] we are standing for the sanctity of the institution.”
Crenshaw dismissed Donalds, who won a second term in November, as not a credible alternative.
“He’s a freshman who started five minutes ago. That’s not running. He didn’t raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the Republican majority in multiple election cycles,” he said. “If you set this precedent, where a mere 20 people can just destroy the conference of over 200, it sets a terrible precedent and they’ll just keep taking scalps.”
While McCarthy allies were hoping additional concessions could bring the messy process to a conclusion, it’s unclear whether enough of the holdouts are willing to back him under any circumstances. It’s possible they will only relent after McCarthy steps aside and clears the way for another candidate, such as the No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
The lack of a speaker prevents the House from forming committees and passing legislation. Some members have complained they have been unable to hold meetings with top military officials because they don’t technically have security clearance at the moment.
Until a speaker is chosen, there are essentially no members in the U.S. House of Representatives — only members-elect. A speaker is needed to swear in new and returning members of the chamber.
Roy has been asked many times by reporters this week how long the stalemate will continue and has given slight variations of the same answer.
“Until we get it right,” he said.
Washington bureau correspondent Emily Caldwell contributed to this report.