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Day Two of speaker drama begins with no end in sight

Negotiations underway but no clear path for McCarthy — or anyone else

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives at the Capitol ahead of a floor vote for speaker on Wednesday.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives at the Capitol ahead of a floor vote for speaker on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The second day of the 118th Congress began with no signs that California Republican Kevin McCarthy has moved any of the Republicans opposing his speaker bid.

After 19 Republicans opposed McCarthy on the first two ballots yesterday, with one McCarthy supporter joining them on the third, the House is set to reconvene at noon and likely try again to elect a speaker.

As McCarthy headed into the speaker’s office — which he’s already moved into — on Wednesday morning he told reporters he was operating on the “same game plan as yesterday.”

That game plan initially was to keep voting in an effort to wear his opponents down, but McCarthy agreed to adjourn the House after just three ballots Tuesday.

“I didn’t think we were going to get any more productive by continuing on the day,” he told reporters later that night, explaining that he decided the “best way” forward was for Republicans to just to get in a room and talk.

Republican sources said Wednesday morning that McCarthy’s team wants to adopt another motion to adjourn, this time until Thursday, in order to keep negotiating with holdouts. But no decision had been made and sources familiar with talks said it wasn’t clear GOP leaders would have the votes to punt the matter again.

With 434 members-elect voting, McCarthy would need 218 votes to win a majority and he had 202 on the third ballot Tuesday. He told reporters later that night he could win with anywhere between 213 and 222 votes, since all 212 Democrats are voting for their new leader, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

But to win with a threshold lower than 218, McCarthy would need to convince some of his opponents to vote “present” or skip voting altogether. Every two absences or “present” votes lower the majority threshold by one. McCarthy only needs one to lower the threshold to 217 since there’s already one vacancy from the death of Virginia Democrat A. Donald McEachin.

Arkansas Republican French Hill, a McCarthy ally helping in the negotiations, said on CNBC Wednesday morning that meetings were continuing and that he doesn’t think all 20 members are “absolutely firmly opposed to voting for Kevin McCarthy.” He said they need “at least 213 votes if some people decide to vote present and not cast a vote.”

Democrats won’t help McCarthy by voting present, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the most recent speaker who is returning to the rank-and-file this Congress, told reporters Wednesday.

And the McCarthy opponents are signaling nothing has changed.

“I have no doubt there are plenty of my colleagues who would prefer to go along to get along,” Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert tweeted Wednesday morning. “I was elected to secure the border, get spending under control, and fix our energy crisis. This is about making sure we have a leader that will aggressively push that agenda forward.”

Among the demands McCarthy opponents are making is that he agree to hold floor votes on four measures: balanced budget, a “fair tax” bill that would gut the IRS and replace the income tax system with a national sales tax, border legislation from Texas Republicans and congressional term limits.

The opponents, primarily members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, are particularly concerned about reining in what they see as excessive government spending.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry tweeted that McCarthy has “falsely” told the media that he’s conceded to the group’s demands on House rules.

“Not ONE bit will do ANYTHING to stop what just happened in the massive $1.7T, 4000-page Taxpayer theft bill from 12 days ago,” the Pennsylvania Republican said, referring to the omnibus spending package enacted in December. “We’ll continue to seek a candidate who’ll put an end to this horrible practice.”

The rules package does include a number of budget-related rules designed to limit spending, but none would specifically stop the House from passing massive spending bills.

One of the Freedom Caucus requests McCarthy included in the package was a rule to limit bills to a single subject. But that rule includes no enforcement mechanisms and instead only requires members to identify a single subject for the congressional record when introducing bills.

Among the additional rules Freedom Caucus members are seeking are those requiring floor votes on amendments to cut spending, and subjecting individual earmarks to a two-thirds majority vote before being added to spending bills.

‘Fiscal mania’

​​Hill said negotiators are still discussing the rules package and opening up the process on the floor; the budget and doing something about the “fiscal mania that’s been unleashed” under the Democrats; and making sure certain members can get on committees they want. He feels McCarthy has already made progress on those items but noted they “continue to listen to members.”

In a sign of frustration, Hill took a swipe at the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” McCarthy raised for his opponents in the most recent election. He added that the holdouts are keeping the families of new members-elect in town since they can’t be sworn in until after the speaker is elected — not to mention all of the party’s legislative initiatives that are on pause until the organizing matters are resolved.

“They’re demanding their way or the highway and they’re hurting the party, hurting us in 2024,” Nebraska Republican Don Bacon said on CNN Wednesday.

McCarthy received renewed support from Donald Trump in a phone call Tuesday night after some reports the former president was noncommittal, after first endorsing McCarthy in early November.

After that call McCarthy told reporters that Trump wants him to stay in the race and has talked to Republicans on all sides about supporting him.

“He thinks it’s better that all the Republicans get together and solve this,” McCarthy said. “It doesn’t look good for Republicans, but we want to be able to solve it where we’re stronger in the long run. What we went through today in the end becomes a positive that we’re actually focused, united by change.”

Trump publicly expressed that message in a message on his social media platform Truth Social Wednesday morning.

“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” he wrote.


Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, a McCarthy opponent who has long been one of Trump’s most loyal supporters in Congress, tweeted Wednesday that “supporting McCarthy is the worst Human Resources decision President Trump has ever made.”

Gaetz then closed the tweet with one of Trump’s favorite signatures: “Sad!”

Aidan Quigley, Paul M. Krawzak, Ellyn Ferguson and Peter Cohn contributed to this report.

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