Some of GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s opponents began switching their votes in the ongoing speaker’s election Thursday, but those votes weren’t for him.
The House adjourned Thursday evening until noon Friday after five more rounds of balloting — 11 since Tuesday — left McCarthy still far short of the votes needed to take the gavel. McCarthy has yet to win over 20 Republicans voting for someone other than him.
McCarthy’s speaker quest hit a new historic mark Thursday when the ballots crossed into double digits. The last time a speaker race took more than nine ballots to resolve was in the 1850s, before the Civil War, “when party divisions were more nebulous,” according to the House historian.
McCarthy joked about his fondness for setting historical records when asked about reaching that marker.
“I had the longest speech on the floor so apparently I like to make history,” he said, referring to 8.5 hour speech filibustering the initial House version of what eventually downsized into Democrats’ climate, tax and health law.
Most of McCarthy’s Republican opponents continued to vote for Florida’s Byron Donalds, but a few switched their votes. And one of his supporters missed the last three ballots Thursday.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz voted for former President Donald Trump on the seventh, eighth ballots and 11th ballots. He nominated Trump on that last ballot, saying the former president could make the country “great again,” starting in the House.
Republicans Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma voted for Donalds on the seventh ballot but switched to Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma on the eighth ballot.
They continued to vote for Hern on the following ballots and were joined by Gaetz. On the 10th ballot, Republicans Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona, Andy Harris of Maryland and Matt Rosendale of Montana also switched to Hern and voted for him on the 11th.
Gaetz, Boebert, Biggs, Crane and Virginia Republican Bob Good, who voted for Donalds until switching to Hern in the 11th, have all said they will never vote for McCarthy.
Boebert, who has said she won’t support any Republican currently in House leadership, called Hern a “true consensus candidate.”
“Many of you have said it. You see that Kevin McCarthy does not have the votes. You are understanding that he is not going to get there,” Boebert said as she nominated Hern on the ninth ballot. “We need to get to a point where we start evaluating what life after Kevin McCarthy looks like.”
Hern, who voted for McCarthy, led the RSC’s efforts last Congress to produce a budget blueprint that would balance in seven years.
McCarthy’s detractors have asked for a floor vote on the RSC budget as part of their demands, many of which focus on reining in spending. This has been especially important to South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman.
Norman said around 5 p.m. Thursday that the opponents had just been given a written offer to review.
“Everything’s been discussed that’s been on the table for a while and we’ll see how it turns out,” he said.
McCarthy huddled with Republican lawmakers Thursday morning before the House members-elect prepared to convene to vote on a candidate for speaker. Negotiations continued in and outside the chamber throughout the ballots voted Thursday.
A GOP aide said that the results of Thursday’s votes would be critical; if McCarthy picked up support, it would have been a sign that a resolution could be at hand in the next 48 hours. If not, the aide said, the debate could drag on for weeks, stymieing the chamber’s ability to function and even pay committee staff salaries after Jan. 13.
Colorado Republican Ken Buck told CNN Thursday that if none of the opponents began flipping to support McCarthy, more members, including himself, may start looking at alternatives. “There’s a point in time where Kevin is going to lose credibility because he can’t make this deal,” he said.
A few hours later Buck did not vote on the last three ballots. Buck was traveling to a medical appointment and was going to miss further votes Thursday and most of the day Friday, according to Fox News.
McCarthy appeared to be giving in to more of the demands of the members of his conference who have voted against him on the floor — but it may still not be enough.
“Look, I think whenever you negotiate different things, nothing’s agreed to till everything’s agreed to,” McCarthy said ahead of a morning meeting with the holdouts.
He did not anticipate a resolution Thursday, but said the talks have been moving in the right direction.
“I’m confident we’ll get to the solution. Otherwise, we won’t be successful,” McCarthy said. “So I think everybody, of the members I’ve talked to, have been very productive.”
Negotiations with McCarthy’s detractors have centered around possible tweaks to House rules, commitments for an open amendment process for spending bills and placement of House Freedom Caucus members on key committees.
But leaks to media outlets about the state of play sapped some momentum midday Thursday. Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., was absent for the seventh ballot vote initially when the clerk called his name; he was appearing on Fox to denounce the leaking and proclaim, “There is no deal yet.”
A little while later Perry suggested to reporters a resolution may now be off the table.
“We’re not even really talking about a deal,” he said. It was not immediately clear if his view had changed after the written offer Thursday evening.
One of the demands McCarthy reportedly agreed to was holding a vote on congressional term limits. Florida Republican Brian Mast seemed to confirm that in a floor speech nominating McCarthy on the eighth ballot, saying McCarthy will allow the House to vote on member priorities but can’t control the outcome of those votes. “He will give us that opportunity to make sure that we don’t have endless terms here in the House of Representatives,” Mast said.
Norman said the discussion is around voting on a constitutional amendment he’s introduced in the past to institute a three-term limit for House members and a two-term limit for senators. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote to pass, so it’s unlikely such a vote would be successful.
Still, other concessions McCarthy has offered up are upsetting his allies.
One source familiar with the talks said a proposal to ensure three or four Freedom Caucus members seats on the GOP steering panel, which selects committee assignments, is particularly frustrating to moderates backing McCarthy.
In addition, there was consternation about the possibility of naming conservatives opposing McCarthy to specific chairmanships or subcommittee gavels.
“I call it affirmative action for the smallest of the caucuses to put them in leadership roles when they have not earned it,” Nebraska Republican Don Bacon said. “We believe in a merit-based system on the GOP side.”
Sources familiar with the talks said handing the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee “cardinal” slot to Maryland Republican Andy Harris, was on the panel, for instance. But that didn’t sway Harris from voting against McCarthy on Thursday.
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole is term-limited in that position but waivers are possible for term-limited members. And decisions on Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships are typically left up to the Appropriations chair — in this case Texas Republican Kay Granger — but have to be approved by the Steering Committee.
“Right now we’re just looking, who’s going to be there and who we have to add and that sort of thing,” Granger said. “We haven’t gotten into how we’re going to do it.”
Robert B. Aderholt, a senior Appropriations panel member, said he’s open to some anti-McCarthy bloc requests but is concerned with rules changes to give holdouts chairmanships.
“When you dictate all the committees and who’s going to be in what position on what committees and all that, I think might be going a little bit too far,” the Alabama Republican said. “If there’s representation on committees, I can go along with that to a certain extent. But it’s not like we uproot the entire seniority process.”
Washington Republican Dan Newhouse, another appropriator, expressed similar concerns.
“Well there is a process, right, and some of it’s based on seniority, some of it’s based on experience from the outside world that you bring, and some people are waiting in line,” Newhouse said. “And if you jump that line, that’s not fair.”
Other gavels are possibly at stake as well. Texas Republican Daniel Crenshaw, a McCarthy backer and potential Homeland Security Committee chair, said putting holdouts into committee leadership positions is a “hard line” that the broader conference won’t cross.
‘I will pay a price’
Eli Crane, a new Republican member-elect who defeated Democrat Tom O’Halleran in a reconfigured Arizona seat that moved much further right, said he knew that his opposition to McCarthy would have early consequences.
“I know there will be retribution, I know I will pay a price for taking this stand. but I’m telling you … right now that if enough of us don’t do it, if enough of us don’t do it now this country will not be safe, it will not be turned around,” Crane said on The Jeff Oravits Show.
“There’s a lot of interest, but most guys aren’t moving. Because, the, frankly, the swamp machine, all the money, they start threatening you, right? Yesterday, Mike Rogers said we’re gonna kick you off committees,” Roy said. “I told Mike Rogers to kiss my rear end. I’m gonna stand up and fight for the people that I believe in.”
Rogers, of Alabama, is the anticipated chairman of the Armed Services Committee if and when a speaker is elected, a rules package is adopted and committees can get organized.
Roy, seen as a key barometer for whether conservatives could ultimately shift to backing McCarthy, voted again for Donalds on Thursday.
Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, who supports McCarthy, told reporters he refuted the contention that what McCarthy was offering to Roy and company amounted to concessions.
“They’re not concessions,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s not a single person in my district, in anyone’s district, that is talking about the motion to vacate.” Fitzpatrick was referring to a potential change to House rules regarding how many members would be needed to force a vote to remove the speaker.
Wednesday evening, McCarthy narrowly prevailed with Republican support on the most basic of procedural motions, a motion to adjourn, which led to some optimism going into Thursday’s session. But critics like Biggs wanted the anti-McCarthy bloc to stand firm and “Hold the line!” as he tweeted.
Ellyn Ferguson, Laura Weiss, Suzanne Monyak, Jim Saksa, Caroline Coudriet, Avery Roe, Caitlin Reilly, Paul M. Krawzak, David Lerman and Valerie Yurk contributed to this report.