Opposition to Kevin McCarthy’s speaker bid did not shift through three ballots on Wednesday, and Republicans voted to adjourn the House for the day around 8:30 p.m. when a more than 3-hour break did not yield enough progress.
On those fourth, fifth and sixth ballots, McCarthy critics switched their preferred alternative to Florida Republican Byron Donalds but did not pick up any more support.
One member-elect who backed McCarthy on Tuesday, Indiana Republican Victoria Spartz, switched her votes on Wednesday to “present.”
Since only votes for a specific name count toward determining a majority and there is already one vacancy from the death of Virginia Democrat A. Donald McEachin, that lowered the majority threshold McCarthy needed to obtain to 217.
But he still fell 16 votes short on the second day of voting, with 201.
After the sixth ballot since Tuesday did not elect a speaker, the House adjourned until 8 p.m. Heading into that session, McCarthy left a meeting with his detractors and said the two sides hadn’t reached a deal yet, but were making progress.
“I don’t think voting tonight is productive,” McCarthy said. “It’s probably best that people work through some more, I think. I don’t think voting tonight does any difference, but I think a vote in the future will.”
The House then voted, 216-214, to adjourn until noon Thursday.
McCarthy had told reporters Tuesday night that he could win with anywhere between 213 votes — one above the number of Democrats voting for New York’s Hakeem Jeffries — and 222 votes, the size of his conference.
He said at the lowest threshold he only needs to sway 11 opponents to vote for him. But McCarthy needs his opponents, not his supporters like Spartz, to vote present or skip the vote to truly help him.
Spartz told reporters she didn’t want to vote against McCarthy but voted present because she wanted to encourage Republicans to negotiate a solution in conference.
“The only way for us to get a speaker is to go back to the room, to the drawing board, and discuss how we can … address concerns of 20 people,” she said.
Spartz has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate seat Sen. Mike Braun is giving up to run for governor. If she does run, she likely would face competition in a Republican primary where her vote for speaker could be a factor. Jim Banks, another potential candidate for that Senate seat, has voted for McCarthy on every ballot.
‘We’ll get it done’
Heading into the chamber before the votes Wednesday, McCarthy said Republicans would “work through this and we’ll get it done.” He said his opponents could “go through every name in the conference” but he’d still have the most votes at the end of the day.
The votes showed that former President Donald Trump, who made calls to some opponents and posted on his social media site Wednesday urging McCarthy’s critics to unite behind him, had no effect on the race.
“The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that sir you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,” Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert said in a floor speech nominating Donalds for the fifth ballot.
Most of McCarthy’s opponents are members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus that were some of Trump’s fiercest advocates during his presidency. But the group may be less inclined to back Trump in 2024 if Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who was a founding Freedom Caucus member, runs.
Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher nominated McCarthy for the fourth ballot, saying no one has done more to lay out a policy vision for the party than him.
“No one has done more to bring us into the majority than Kevin McCarthy,” he said. “There are basic things we know we need to do. It is time to get to work.”
Texas Republican Chip Roy, one of the McCarthy opponents, nominated Donalds, a 44-year-old Freedom Caucus member who just finished his first term, for the fourth ballot. He called Donalds a “solid conservative” who has “a proven track record as a businessman.”
“Do you think the American people support the status quo: Yes or no?” Roy asked his colleagues. “The argument that I would make is that they want a new face, new vision and new leadership. And I believe that new face is Byron Donalds.”
Donalds is Black, and the House has never had a Black speaker. Democrats recently elected Jeffries as minority leader, the first Black party caucus leader, who they nominated as their speaker candidate again on Wednesday.
“For the first time in history there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House,” Roy said, prompting a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats.
It’s unlikely Donalds could get to 218 votes, especially with McCarthy still in the race. McCarthy has vowed not to drop out of contention and said Tuesday night he doesn’t think any other Republican could get to 218.
Donalds challenged New York’s Elise Stefanik for Republican Conference chair in November, but lost 144-74 on a secret-ballot vote.
Donalds told reporters he has no interest in serving as speaker. “But I also understand part of my responsibility [is] to make sure that our conference gets to a point where we are doing the things in an effective and constructive way,” he said.
Ohio Republican Warren Davidson, a Freedom Caucus member, nominated McCarthy on the fifth ballot, pleading with his colleagues to “let cooler, more rational heads prevail.”
Davidson listed conference and House rule changes Freedom Caucus members sought and McCarthy agreed to, saying the GOP leader gave his detractors virtually everything they’ve requested.
“Does it really boil down to this: That 20 or more of my colleagues will never trust Kevin McCarthy as speaker?” he asked.
Boebert responded to Davidson’s claims as she nominated Donalds.
“He stated some amazing rules we were able to get agreement on — I think,” she said. But Boebert added that McCarthy’s detractors were “threatened pretty heavily” in a closed Republican Conference meeting that those changes would go away if they didn’t vote for McCarthy.
Boebert also claimed that McCarthy hasn’t agreed to other things the group asked for as they’ve worked “tirelessly” for months to build consensus.
“Too often our efforts have fallen on deaf ears,” she said.
Roy told reporters Wednesday that the opposition against McCarthy “hardened” after “shenanigans in the House Republican Conference” Tuesday.
McCarthy told the conference Tuesday morning that he “earned” the right to be speaker, got into a screaming match with Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry and sat by as his ally Alabama Republican Mike D. Rogers threatened to use his post on the Steering Committee to kick the opposition group off committees.
Arizona Republican Eli Crane said there’s nothing McCarthy can do to win his vote.
Another McCarthy opponent, Virginia Republican Bob Good, said they’re willing to take “a few days or a few weeks to get the best possible speaker.” He urged McCarthy to withdraw or risk losing more support.
“He can withdraw. The 20 of us are not caving,” Good said. “He’s going to continue to get less votes.”
McCarthy and his allies are vehemently rejecting that advice.
“When you have round-robin votes and one person gets 92 percent, they’re not the person that drops out,” Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick said. “That’s not how this works.”
At least one McCarthy opponent says he is swayable.
“I’m not a ‘never Kevin,’” Maryland Republican Andy Harris said. He said his top priority is to have “proportionate representation of conservatives on committees” and for McCarthy to make the placements, not just commit to doing so.
Harris served as the top Republican on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Committee last Congress but wouldn’t say whether he expects to keep that role. “This is not about me,” he said.
South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman suggested committee assignments are not important to getting his vote.
“This isn’t about Ralph Norman getting a seat. We were threatened with being thrown off committees unless we vote [for McCarthy]. Now how does that work?” he said.
“Miracles happen,” Norman said when asked if he’d ever vote for McCarthy. The leader would have to “morph into a fiscal conservative” and be “willing to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling,” he said, calling that “nonnegotiable.”
Given the lack of breakthroughs within the party, some of McCarthy’s allies are urging him to give up negotiating with the Freedom Caucus and instead strike a deal with Democrats.
Nebraska Republican Don Bacon said he’s advised McCarthy’s team he may be able to get a better deal offering things to Democrats, like better committee ratios, than with the Freedom Caucus.
California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the most recent speaker, responded to such suggestions with a hard pass.
“This is a problem of their own making. This is called leadership,” she said. “They should be able to work it out. Don’t put this at the Democrats’ doorstep.”
McCarthy allies have also discussed a backup alternative of working with Democrats to nominate a speaker candidate from outside Congress, like recently retired Fred Upton.
If progress from negotiations happening among Republicans stops, “then we start working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” Fitzpatrick said.
Minnesota Democrat Dean Phillips, recently elected to the party’s leadership team, said he’s open to conversations about supporting a Republican other than McCarthy.
Electing a speaker is a priority because the House is not positioned now to handle any crisis, which is “dangerous,” he said. Democrats are willing to stay “indefinitely” to continue voting, Phillips added.
While McCarthy’s allies have pledged to continue backing him so long as he’s running, others are taking their support a step further.
“I won’t consider an alternative. Kevin McCarthy would have to resign from Congress,” Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw said. “I’ll tell you what, whoever that 20 wants I will never vote for that person. I do not care who it is.”
“They want to pull the pins on the grenades and lock the doors,” he added. “Okay, let’s see how that goes.”
Laura Weiss, Aidan Quigley, Suzanne Monyak, Caitlin Reilly, Jim Saksa, Ellyn Ferguson, Michael Macagnone, David Lerman, Paul M. Krawzak and Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.