U.S. House stuck for a third day as Republicans struggle to unite around a speaker
California Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy heads to the U.S. House chamber just after noon on Jan. 5, 2023, as the House began another day of votes on his bid to become speaker. (Ashley Murray/States Newsroom)
UPDATED 8:15 p.m. Central, 1/5/23
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House adjourned Thursday again without a speaker, racking up five more ballots throughout the day before members left the floor shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern, with some decamping to closed-door negotiations and others leaving the Capitol.
“I am not a part of any negotiations,” Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, a leading opponent of Kevin McCarthy’s speaker bid, said while walking out of the building.
Boebert has been in and out of talks with GOP leaders for days as McCarthy and his allies sought to garner the support needed for the Californian to be elected speaker, though it appeared she’s no longer a key player as of Thursday evening.
Texas’ Chip Roy, another McCarthy opponent, stayed in the building after voting wrapped on the 219-213 vote to adjourn, but was reticent about how talks are going and whether conservative holdouts will move toward backing McCarthy.
“Look, I’ve been being a little coy with you guys and I’m sorry. But, you know, I can’t negotiate this publicly,” Roy said. “I just can’t. This is really important stuff at a really important time.”
Roy said GOP lawmakers are “working hard” to reach agreement on a speaker, though he sidestepped a question about a possible agreement that members were reportedly reviewing behind closed doors Thursday evening.
“I don’t know what a preliminary deal is. We’re still having conversations,” Roy said.
The House is set to return at noon Friday.
Twenty-one Republicans voted against McCarthy during the third day of voting, a level of opposition that was unchanged from Wednesday.
The House held the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th ballots on Thursday after holding three votes on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
The mounting number of ballots on Thursday surpassed the nine votes it took a century ago for the House to elect a speaker, making this stalemate the longest since 1859, when it took the 36th Congress 44 ballots to elect a speaker.
McCarthy’s backing through Thursday’s five rounds of ballots dropped to 200 votes, down from 201, with 20 members of his conference voting for other candidates — including Florida’s Byron Donalds, Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern and former President Donald Trump — and one member voting present.
Democrats continued to uniformly back New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, who holds the most votes for speaker with 212.
The House cannot move on from speaker debate unless a candidate gets at least 218 votes, or the chamber adjourns, as it did on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Until Republicans unite around McCarthy, or a consensus candidate emerges, the 434 current House members cannot be sworn in and committees cannot form, leaving the chamber stuck.
House Democrats rebuked the GOP stalemate in floor speeches Thursday, with the new leadership trio — Minority Leader Jeffries, Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California — releasing a joint statement as well.
“House Democrats are united and ready to get to work,” they said. “Unfortunately, House Republicans remain unable to organize themselves in a manner that allows the Congress to move forward and do the business of the American people.”
Michigan’s John James, an incoming freshman Republican, sought to contextualize the ongoing GOP stalemate by referencing the speaker election of the 34th Congress, noting it took lawmakers more than 133 votes over two months to elect Nathaniel Banks, of Massachusetts.
“The issues today are over a few rules and personalities, while the issues at that time were about slavery and whether the value of a man who looks like me was 60% or 100% of a human being,” James said.
“It was a long, drawn-out, painful process. But it needed to happen,” James continued. “And in the end, Nathaniel Banks won by the slimmest of margins. But you know, margins don’t matter when your policies are on the right side of history.”
James, who nominated McCarthy ahead of the seventh ballot, also pressed all of his Republican colleagues to back the California Republican and not let the process extend longer.
“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,” James said. “And we are failing on both missions. That must change today.”
But North Carolina’s Dan Bishop offered Donalds as an alternative candidate ahead of the seventh ballot, arguing that McCarthy wasn’t the right person for the role.
“We are committed to make change to this institution that has lost its way,” Bishop said, calling Donalds a “man of personal conviction.”
Bishop said the ongoing gridlock within the House GOP will be resolved, though he didn’t offer details for a clear path forward during his floor speech.
“People ask me what is the end game? How does this end? The answer to this question is that this is a dynamic process,” Bishop said. “All of the decisions on this floor result from the coming together of minds — one way or another.”
McCarthy told reporters he remained optimistic, while rushing between meetings inside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning.
“I think everybody, of the members I’ve talked to, (has) been very productive. They’ve been productive in their discussions, their ideas … They want to find a solution that’s possible,” McCarthy said.
Concessions by McCarthy
But there are concerns within the House Republican Conference about some of the concessions McCarthy might make to get the backing of the 218 House members needed to become speaker.
Alabama’s Robert Aderholt said during a brief interview before the House session that potentially allowing Maryland Rep. Andy Harris to elbow Oklahoma’s Tom Cole out as chairman of the spending panel that controls funding for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor “is a bridge too far.”
“When you start into the seniority process, I think that’s going a bit too far and I would have very great concerns about that,” Aderholt said.
Aderholt, a senior appropriator and subcommittee chairman, said whether House GOP leaders bring the dozen annual government funding bills to the floor under open rules, which allow any member to offer any amendment, could be challenging. Open rules for such bills are a demand by McCarthy opponents.
The House hasn’t used open rules for spending bills in several years, with both Republicans and Democrats opting for a process that allows for limited amendment debate.
“I’ll be honest with you, I have mixed emotions about it,” Aderholt said. “I think generally speaking, when you have an open rule, it’s a good idea. But also too, you can get some crazy amendment in there. And so, I think it’s a double-edged sword. So, I think we’ve got to go into this with all eyes open.”
Wisconsin’s Mike Gallagher said during an interview as the votes went on that the biggest roadblock to Republicans uniting around McCarthy for speaker “seems to be just basic trust.”
Gallagher also questioned how McCarthy potentially giving into demands from the opposition group that a minimum number of its members be placed on certain committees, like Rules or Appropriations panels, would affect the conference.
“If you say, ‘Okay, you get X spots on the Rules Committee and X spots on the Appropriations Committee.’ Well, then every faction in the Republican caucus is going to [say], ‘I want three spots on Ag. I want, you know, 10 spots on Armed Services.’ Then it’s just chaos,” Gallagher said.
List of opponents
House GOP lawmakers voting for candidates other than McCarthy were: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Bishop of North Carolina, Boebert of Colorado, Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Michael Cloud of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Eli Crane of Arizona, Donalds of Florida, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Harris of Maryland, Anna Luna of Florida, Mary Miller of Illinois, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andrew Ogles of Tennessee, Perry of Pennsylvania, Rosendale of Montana, Roy of Texas and Keith Self of Texas.
Indiana’s Victoria Spartz continued voting present.
Nebraska’s Don Bacon reiterated Thursday that a stronghold of the Republican conference will remain behind McCarthy.
“We’re in for the long haul,” he said.
Throughout the evening Thursday, lawmakers shuffled in and out of the office of Minnesota’s Tom Emmer, who is set to be the conference’s majority whip. Members said a deal was on paper and under review.
“We’re not quite digital yet,” said Rep.-elect Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a strong McCarthy ally. “My hope is that we show progress.”
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