GOP’s McCarthy pressured to ‘figure out’ speaker race
Published Thursday, January 5, 2023 | 4:27 am
Updated 0 milliseconds ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are at a crossroads, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly failed to become speaker of the House, but he remains determined to convince enough members of the right wing to vote for him. and to end an endless stalemate.
What began as a political novelty, the first time in 100 years that a nominee did not win on the first ballot, has turned into a bitter Republican Party feud and deepening potential crisis.
McCarthy is under increasing pressure from worried Republicans and Democrats to find the votes he needs or to recuse himself so the House can fully reopen and get on with the business of governing. His opponents on the right seem intent on waiting him out, for as long as necessary.
“No deal yet,” McCarthy said late Wednesday before the House abruptly adjourned. “But a lot of progress.”
The House of Representatives, which is half of Congress, is essentially at a standstill as McCarthy has failed, one vote after another, to win the speakership in a grueling spectacle for the whole world to see. Ballots have produced almost the same result, with 20 Conservatives still refusing to back him, leaving him well short of the 218 usually needed to win the race.
In fact, McCarthy saw his support drop to 201 after a fellow Republican moved to vote simply by being present.
“I think people need to work a little harder,” McCarthy said Wednesday as they prepared to adjourn for the night. “I don’t think a vote tonight would make any difference. But a future vote might.”
When the House resumes at noon Thursday, it could be a long day. The new Republican majority was not expected to be in session on Friday, which is the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. A protracted and divisive speaker’s war would almost certainly underscore the fragility of American democracy after the attempted coup two years ago.
“All who serve in the House of Representatives share the responsibility to bring dignity to this body,” California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, said in a tweet.
Pelosi also said that “the cavalier attitude of Republicans in electing a president is frivolous, disrespectful and unworthy of this institution. We must open the Chamber and continue with the People’s work.”
Some Republicans appear to be growing uneasy with the way House Republicans have taken charge after the midterm elections only to see the chamber flip over the speaker’s race in their first days in the new majority.
Colorado Republican Ken Buck said he did not encourage McCarthy to step down. “I told him he has to figure out how to make a deal moving forward,” he said.
The California Republican, however, vowed to fight to the end for the speakership in a battle that had thrown the new majority into turmoil in the early days of the new Congress.
Right-wing conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with former President Donald Trump, appeared emboldened by the stalemate — even as Trump publicly endorsed McCarthy.
“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Florida Republican Byron Donalds, who was nominated three times by his conservative colleagues as an alternative. “There are a lot of members in the chamber who want to have serious conversations about how we can wrap this all up and elect a chairman.”
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, just as several previous Republican speakers, including John Boehner, struggled to lead a rebellious right wing. The result: government shutdowns, gridlock, and Boehner’s early retirement.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, deeply aligned with Trump’s agenda to make America great again, want to overturn business as usual in Washington and were committed to stopping McCarthy’s rise without compromising their own priorities. .
But even Trump’s staunchest supporters disagreed on the issue. Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, who nominated Donald for a second term, called on the former president to tell McCarthy, “Sir, you don’t have the votes and it’s time to step down.”
By McCarthy’s own reckoning, he should win back about a dozen Republicans who have so far not pledged their support as he seeks the job he has long sought.
To win 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 members more influence.
And a McCarthy-affiliated campaign group, the Conservative Leadership Fund, offered another concession, saying it would no longer spend campaign money “in any open primary in safe Republican districts.” Far-right lawmakers have complained that their preferred candidates because the House were being treated unfairly after the campaign fund put its resources elsewhere.
Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said the latest round of talks was “productive.”
“I’m open to anything that will give me the power to protect my constituents against this godforsaken city,” said Texas Republican Chip Roy, another member of the conservative group.
But those who oppose McCarthy don’t all have the same grievances, and he may never be able to win some of them over.
“I’m ready to vote all night, all week, all month and never for that person,” said Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.
Such strong opposition echoed McCarthy’s previous bid for the job, when he dropped out of the mayoral race in 2015 because he could not win over conservatives.
“We have no exit strategy,” said South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman.
“There’s nothing he can give me or any of our members that’s going to be a magic pill,” Norman said. “We’re here to vet a speaker. Vet the third person in line for the presidency and that’s a good thing.”
Since 1923, the election of a mayor has not gone to multiple ballots. The longest battle for the stake began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months, with 133 ballots, during the debates over slavery on the eve of the Civil War.
Democrats enthusiastically nominated and renominated their House Speaker, Hakeem Jeffries, on all six ballots for speaker over the first two days. He repeatedly won the majority of votes overall, 212.
If McCarthy could win 213 votes, and then convince the remaining dissenters to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the threshold required by the rules to have a majority.
It’s a strategy former House Speakers, including Pelosi and Boehner, have used when facing opposition, winning by less than 218 votes.
One Republican, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, voted in attendance in Wednesday’s rounds, but only ended up reducing McCarthy’s total.
AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.