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GOP’s McCarthy pressured to ‘figure out’ speaker race

WASHINGTON (UKTN) — House Republicans are at a crossroads as Leader Kevin McCarthy has failed time and time again to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, but he remains determined to persuade enough right-wing parties to vote for him and end to a stalemate whose end is not yet in sight.

What began as a political novelty, the first time in 100 years that a nominee failed to win the gavel on the first ballot, has turned into a bitter Republican Party feud and a deepening potential crisis.

McCarthy is under increasing pressure from restless Republicans and Democrats to get the votes he needs or step aside so the House can open up fully and get on with governing. His opponents on the right flank seem eager to wait him out for as long as necessary.

“No deal yet,” McCarthy said late Wednesday before the House was abruptly adjourned. “But a lot of progress.”

The House, which is half of Congress, is essentially at a standstill because McCarthy has failed, one vote after another, to win the gavel in a grueling spectacle for all the world to see. The ballots produced nearly the same result, 20 Conservative holdouts still refusing to support him, leaving him well short of the 218 normally required to win the gavel.

In fact, McCarthy saw his support slip back into 201, when a fellow Republican switched to simply attending voting.

“I think people need to work a little more,” McCarthy said Wednesday as they prepared to adjourn for the night. “I don’t think a vote tonight will make any difference. But a vote in the future could be possible.”

If the House resumes at noon on Thursday, it could be a long day. The new Republican majority would not be in session on Friday, the anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. A protracted and divisive battle between speakers would almost certainly underscore the fragility of American democracy after the attempted insurrection two years ago.

“All who serve in the House share a responsibility to dignify this body,” California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, said in a tweet.

Pelosi also said the Republicans’ cavalier attitude in electing a president is frivolous, disrespectful and unworthy of this institution. We must open the House and continue the work of the People.”

Some Republicans seem uncomfortable with the way the House Republicans took control after the midterm elections, but the chamber is upside down with the speaker’s race in their first days in the new majority.

Colorado Republican Ken Buck said he was not encouraging McCarthy to step aside. “I told him to figure out how to make a deal to move forward,” he said.

However, the California Republican pledged to fight to the end for the speaker’s position in a battle that had stirred the new majority in the first days of the new Congress.

Conservatives on the right, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with former President Donald Trump, seemed emboldened by the standoff — even though Trump publicly supported McCarthy,

“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Florida Republican Byron Donalds, who was nominated three times as an alternative by his conservative peers. “There are a lot of members in the room who want to have serious conversations about how we can bring this all to a close and pick a speaker.”

The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties with the Republicans now in control of the House, much as some former Republican speakers, including John Boehner, struggled to lead a rebellious right wing. The result: government shutdowns, deadlocks, and Boehner’s early retirement.

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, want to upend the normal course of business in Washington and were determined to stop McCarthy’s rise to power without compromising their priorities.

But even Trump’s strongest supporters disagreed on this issue. Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, who nominated Donalds for a second time, called on the former president to tell McCarthy, “Sir, you don’t have the votes and it’s time to back out.”

By McCarthy’s own calculation, he should flip about a dozen Republicans who have so far withheld their support as he moves on to the job he’s long wanted.

To garner support, McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of Freedom Caucus members, who have pushed for rule changes and other concessions that give rank and file members greater influence.

And a McCarthy-affiliated campaign group, the Conservative Leadership Fund, offered another concession, saying it would stop spending money on elections “in open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts.” The far-right lawmakers have complained that their preferred candidates for the House were treated unfairly because the campaign fund diverted its resources.

Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said the latest round of talks was “productive.”

“I’m open to anything that gives me the strength to defend my constituents against this godforsaken town,” said Texan Republican Chip Roy, another member of the conservative group.

But McCarthy’s opponents don’t all have the same complaints, and some of them he may never be able to win over.

“I’m ready to vote all night, all week, all month and never for that person,” Florida Republican Matt Gaetz said.

Such staunch opposition bore echoes of McCarthy’s earlier bid for the job, when he dropped out of the speaker’s race in 2015 because he failed to convince the conservatives.

“We don’t have an exit strategy,” South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman said.

“There’s nothing he can give me or any of our members that will be a magic pill,” said Norman. “We’re here to investigate a speaker. Investigate the person who is third in line for president and that’s a good thing.”

Not since 1923 has the election of a speaker been by majority vote. The longest battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and lasted two months, with 133 votes, during debates over slavery leading up to the Civil War.

Democrats enthusiastically nominated and renamed their house leader, Hakeem Jeffries, on all six ballots for speaker during the first two days. He repeatedly won the most total votes, 212.

If McCarthy could win 213 votes and then convince the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the threshold required by the rules to have the majority.

It’s a strategy former House speakers, including Pelosi and Boehner, had used as they went head-to-head with the opposition and won by less than 218 votes.

One Republican, Indiana’s Victoria Spartz, voted present during Wednesday’s rounds, but it ultimately only led to a reduction in McCarthy’s total.

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UKTN writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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