WASHINGTON — Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and his conservative detractors will square off for a second consecutive day as lawmakers prepare to resume voting Wednesday to pick the next House speaker.
A group of 20 far-right rebels banded together Tuesday and blocked McCarthy from winning the 218 needed votes.
Three separate votes were held, and each time McCarthy, a veteran member of GOP leadership, fell short. It was the first time in 100 years that the speaker vote has gone to multiple ballots.
“This is about saving the country and getting somebody that’s going to cut and get us on a financial path of solvency,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., one of the so-called Never Kevins who voted against McCarthy. “I’ll sit here for six more months — it doesn’t matter.”
But McCarthy has won the support of 202 Republicans — more than 90% of the 222-member GOP Conference — and the number of his detractors has stayed relatively steady. He said Wednesday morning that he believes he can get to an agreement, saying he has the “same game plan as yesterday.”
McCarthy could even potentially get some support from Democrats to end the standoff.
“I was thinking today, ‘Gosh, Kevin McCarthy was only short a few votes.’ I wish I could be part of some kind of a unity caucus that would yield him the votes,” Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur told a local news outlet. “I was going around talking to some of my Republican colleagues about that.”
House Republicans are speaking on a conference call Wednesday morning to discuss the path ahead.
McCarthy’s allies have vowed to hold roll call votes until the opposition caves.
“You can’t accommodate a small group that essentially has you hostage, and that’s what’s going on here — we’re not going to do it,” moderate Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, said after Tuesday’s vote series.
Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, the new head of the business-friendly Republican Main Street Caucus, said, “I’m as confident right now that Kevin McCarthy is going to become speaker of the House as I was a week ago and a month ago.”
Other McCarthy allies expressed frustration at the conservative rabble-rousers for exposing internal GOP divisions at the very moment Republicans are taking control of the House after four years in the minority. Without a speaker, House lawmakers can’t be sworn in, committees can’t be formed, and GOP investigations into the Biden administration can’t begin.
Essentially, there is no functioning House of Representatives until a speaker is chosen. The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon Wednesday.
“Everybody’s just annoyed, agitated. The people that are doing this, which I count a lot of them as my good friends, need to know when [to] accept the win,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said about concessions the conservatives had extracted from McCarthy.
“So take most of the win and go with it and build on it for later.”
In the third and final vote Tuesday, the 20 GOP defectors all cast their votes for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, even though he has endorsed McCarthy and he delivered a nominating speech for him. Jordan later told reporters he only wanted to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the new Congress.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who is close with Jordan and has endorsed McCarthy, said it was inconsiderate and appalling that the defectors were trying to push Jordan into the speaker’s office.
“Jim Jordan says, ‘I am supporting Kevin McCarthy,’ and he goes out there on the House floor, says it and votes for him repeatedly,” Greene told reporters. Twenty “Republicans don’t even respect Jim Jordan enough to respect what he wants to do.”
The remarkable floor fight has pitted Trump loyalists against one another as former President Donald Trump makes another bid for the White House. McCarthy, Jordan and Greene have been some of Trump’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill, but they’re now facing off against Trump supporters like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and newer leaders of the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus, Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Trump, who previously endorsed McCarthy for speaker and had been making calls on his behalf, had gone silent on his support.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly whether he was sticking with McCarthy in a brief phone conversation after Tuesday’s votes.
But after speaking with McCarthy that night, Trump on Wednesday morning gave a full-throated endorsement of the GOP leader and called on House Republicans to rally behind him.
“[I]t’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post on Wednesday morning that also disparaged former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE, YOU DESERVE IT. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB — JUST WATCH!”
As he left the Capitol on Tuesday night, McCarthy continued to project optimism while suggesting that he’s exploring a path to victory that would include 213 votes in his favor instead of 218. In the scenario McCarthy described, he would need to flip 11 votes if a handful of lawmakers were to vote present.
“I think we’ll find our way to get there. This is a healthy debate,” McCarthy told reporters. “It might not happen on the day we want, but it’s going to happen. … I think at the end of the day, we’ll get everybody.”
Bacon warned that if conservatives dig in on their opposition to McCarthy, delaying House business in the process, moderates will need to reach across the aisle to try to reach a deal with Democrats on a consensus speaker.
“You can have some folks you can work with, but I think in the end you just go to the top one or two people in the Democratic Party and start making a deal,” Bacon told reporters.
“If they prove to themselves that they can’t function as part of a team, then we’re going to make that decision. But we’re not there. I think Kevin still has lots of runway.”
Haley Talbot, Frank Thorp V, Garrett Haake, Kyle Stewart, Gary Grumbach , Kate Santaliz, Ali Vitali and Julie Tsirkin contributed.