Kevin McCarthy came up short in the 12th ballot in his bid for speaker on Friday, but chipped away at his dissenters by winning the support of 14 members who previously opposed his bid for the top gavel.
Reps.-elect Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), Mary Miller (R-Ill.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), Keith Self (R-Texas) and Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) — all of whom previously opposed the California Republican’s bid for speaker — flipped to support McCarthy amid ongoing discussions for further concessions to the party’s conservative flank.
“We’re at a turning point. I’ve negotiated in good faith, with one purpose: to restore the People’s House back to its rightful owners. The framework for an agreement is in place,” Perry, chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, tweeted during the vote. He and some other conservatives who switched their votes to McCarthy addressed reporters after the twelfth ballot, largely declining to discuss specifics of the emerging deal.
McCarthy got an additional jolt of energy on the 13th ballot when Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), another previous opponent, also flipped to support him. He still fell short of the necessary majority of those voting present, however, with six GOP members remaining in the no camp.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a moderate and key McCarthy ally, said the chamber hoped to adjourn after the thirteenth ballot to allow allies of the California Republican to sit down one-on-one with his remaining dissenters. As to whether their opposition comes down to McCarthy himself, he said: “We’re gonna find that out.”
And lawmakers then followed suit, voting to adjourn the chamber until 10 p.m. That will tee up a potentially decisive ballot late Friday night.
McCarthy, speaking to the press, said he would have the votes needed for election when it came back into session.
Elements of the emerging pact between McCarthy and conservatives that Perry did confirm included a one-member threshold for forcing a vote to oust a speaker, controls on government spending and “conservative representation” in Congress — particularly on the powerful Rules Committee.
It’s a significant show of momentum for McCarthy, with one person close to Republican leadership indicating that the number of flips exceeded internal projections. Even so, it’s unclear what more the Californian can do to placate the remaining six Republicans opposed to his bid.
The historic ballot comes two years to the day after the Jan. 6 insurrection, as the House is mired in a different breed of crisis over the speakership — one with a direct line back to the violent riot that appeared blurrier than ever on Friday.
Some of the same conservatives who have submerged the House in gridlock were the most vocal supporters of Donald Trump’s effort to challenge the 2020 election two years ago. Yet even their rebellion against Kevin McCarthy this week underscored how diminished Trump’s influence is over his party’s right flank: The former president’s endorsement of the California Republican did almost nothing to dislodge his 20 dissenters.
And the day’s smattering of memorial events, public statements and remembrances seemed understated compared to the intense focus on the attack last year, when Democrats ran the House and President Joe Biden marked the occasion with a major address at the Capitol. In fact, as lawmakers prepared to mark the anniversary of the Capitol attack with a remembrance of the officers who lost their lives or were injured during and after it, some were laser-focused on the problem in front of them now.
“Look, January 6 is going to roll around every year, just like Pearl Harbor Day rolls around every year, treated like just another day in the calendar,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said. “I want us to keep going until we get a speaker. This is ridiculous stuff.”
McCarthy and his leadership team convened a conference call Friday morning to update members on the status of negotiations, hours after he appeared to gather some momentum late Thursday by hashing out concessions to hardline members of the GOP conference — offers that his allies were hopeful would move even more votes in his direction as the weekend drew closer.
But enormous uncertainty lingered before the twelfth ballot, as members of the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus had yet to commit their support to McCarthy and a handful of other holdouts continued to signal their opposition. Absences scrambled things somewhat further, with Rep. David Trone’s (D-Md.) absence midday Friday temporarily lowering the number of votes McCarthy would have needed to win.
“Mr. McCarthy doesn’t have the votes today. He will not have the votes tomorrow, and he will not have the votes next week, next month, next year,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of McCarthy’s most ardent opponents, said to jeers from other Republicans on the floor. “Is this an exercise in vanity?”
Other Republicans streamed out of the chamber as Gaetz, who nominated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker, continued making his remarks. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) nominated Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) for speaker for the second consecutive day.
The ongoing negotiations appear not to have yielded much progress among McCarthy’s most dug-in dissenters. Asked what could get him to yes on the speaker, Gaetz replied: “Kevin’s withdrawal.” Boebert said: “There’s no deal with me.”
Several members missed the first Friday vote due to personal matters. Reps. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) are expected back Friday evening, while Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) made it to the day’s second vote following a medical procedure.
All the while, McCarthy’s moderate allies, many of whom represent districts won by Biden, are increasingly leery of the number of concessions getting made to the right.
“If this remains the face of the GOP in 2024 we will get pummeled in the Presidential and Congressional elections,” said centrist Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “We would have won more seats in 2022, but too many feared the extremes in the GOP even before this.“
Underscoring the contrast between the historic anniversary and the ongoing speakership drama, a top aide to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the stand Friday against members of the Oath Keepers — charged with seditious conspiracy for their Jan. 6 actions — to recount the horrors that he and other aides endured as they sheltered from the mob two years ago. The partner of a Capitol Police officer who died hours after the riot also filed suit late Thursday against Trump.
In addition, members of the so-called gallery group of Democratic lawmakers who bonded while sheltering during the attack were planning on holding a lunch for Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers. That group, which includes Wild, planned to sit together on the floor during Friday’s proceedings.
Biden also presented Presidential Citizens Medals on Friday to key figures who resisted Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 loss — from state officials to Capitol Police to election workers.
Back on the Hill, Gaetz made the rounds on the Democratic side of the aisle throughout Thursday’s session and said in a Fox News interview that he was seeking assurances that they wouldn’t leave the House floor, inadvertently helping the GOP leader claim the gavel.
He told one Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, that his group had gotten everything they wanted from McCarthy so far but still didn’t plan to vote for him, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Indeed, Democrats have held together through all 11 speaker ballots so far and signaled no willingness to bail Republicans out of their predicament. They’re preparing to stay through the weekend and have been whipping against efforts to adjourn the House.
Sarah Ferris and Meredith Lee Hill contributed to this report.