U.S. House stuck for a third day as Republicans struggle to unite around a speaker
California Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy heads to the U.S. House chamber just after noon on Jan. 5, 2023, as the House began another day of votes on his bid to become speaker. “We’re just going to keep working until we solve it,” he told reporters. (Ashley Murray/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House slogged through more votes for speaker Thursday, with Republicans unable to reach consensus about whether Kevin McCarthy should lead them during the 118th Congress, or if another lawmaker should win the gavel.
Twenty-one Republicans voted against McCarthy during the third day, signaling that ongoing closed-door negotiations and talks on the House floor from McCarthy allies haven’t succeeded yet. The level of opposition was unchanged from Wednesday.
“Like I said from the beginning, we want to change things fundamentally here so this place works for the American people. And we’re not going to stop going until we get that one way or the other,” Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry said during a brief interview as voting dragged on inside the chamber. “Either we have the tools to do it, or we have the personnel to do it. It’s going to be one, or the other.”
McCarthy’s backing through two rounds of ballots continued to hold at 201 votes, with 20 members of his conference voting for other candidates — including Florida’s Byron Donalds, Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern and former President Donald Trump — and one member voting present.
Democrats continued to uniformly back New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, who holds the most votes for speaker with 212.
The House cannot move on from speaker debate unless a candidate gets at least 218 votes, or the chamber adjourns, as it did on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Until Republicans unite around McCarthy, or a consensus candidate emerges, the 434 current House members cannot be sworn in and committees cannot form, leaving the chamber stuck.
House Democrats rebuked the GOP stalemate in floor speeches Thursday, with the new leadership trio — Majority Leader Jeffries, Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California — releasing a joint statement as well.
“House Democrats are united and ready to get to work,” they said. “Unfortunately, House Republicans remain unable to organize themselves in a manner that allows the Congress to move forward and do the business of the American people.”
Michigan’s John James, an incoming freshman Republican, sought to contextualize the ongoing GOP stalemate by referencing the speaker election of the 34th Congress, noting it took lawmakers more than 133 votes over two months to elect Nathaniel Banks, of Massachusetts.
“The issues today are over a few rules and personalities, while the issues at that time were about slavery and whether the value of a man who looks like me was 60% or 100% of a human being,” James said.
“It was a long, drawn-out, painful process. But it needed to happen,” James continued. “And in the end, Nathaniel Banks won by the slimmest of margins. But you know, margins don’t matter when your policies are on the right side of history.”
James, who nominated McCarthy ahead of the seventh ballot, also pressed all of his Republican colleagues to back the California Republican and not let the process extend longer.
“The American people have told us, by putting a Republican majority here, that they want Republicans to lead, and they want a government that works and doesn’t embarrass them,” James said. “And we are failing on both missions. That must change today.”
But North Carolina’s Dan Bishop offered Donalds as an alternative candidate ahead of the seventh ballot, arguing that McCarthy wasn’t the right person for the role. Arizona’s Andy Biggs offered Donalds on the eighth ballot. And Montana’s Matt Rosendale nominated Donalds on the ninth ballot, underway late Thursday afternoon.
“We are committed to make change to this institution that has lost its way,” Bishop said, calling Donalds a “man of personal conviction.”
Bishop said the ongoing gridlock within the House GOP will be resolved, though he didn’t offer details for a clear path forward during his floor speech.
“People ask me what is the end game? How does this end? The answer to this question is that this is a dynamic process,” Bishop said. “All of the decisions on this floor result from the coming together of minds — one way or another.”
McCarthy told reporters he remained optimistic, while rushing between meetings inside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning.
“I think everybody, of the members I’ve talked to, (has) been very productive. They’ve been productive in their discussions, their ideas … They want to find a solution that’s possible,” McCarthy said.
Concessions by McCarthy
But there are concerns within the House Republican Conference about some of the concessions McCarthy might make to get the backing of the 218 House members needed to become speaker.
Alabama’s Robert Aderholt said during a brief interview before the House session that potentially allowing Maryland Rep. Andy Harris to elbow Oklahoma’s Tom Cole out as chairman of the spending panel that controls funding for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor “is a bridge too far.”
“When you start into the seniority process, I think that’s going a bit too far and I would have very great concerns about that,” Aderholt said.
Aderholt, a senior appropriator and subcommittee chairman, said whether House GOP leaders bring the dozen annual government funding bills to the floor under open rules, which allow any member to offer any amendment, could be challenging. Open rules for such bills are a demand by McCarthy opponents.
The House hasn’t used open rules for spending bills in several years, with both Republicans and Democrats opting for a process that allows for limited amendment debate.
“I’ll be honest with you, I have mixed emotions about it,” Aderholt said. “I think generally speaking, when you have an open rule, it’s a good idea. But also too, you can get some crazy amendment in there. And so, I think it’s a double-edged sword. So, I think we’ve got to go into this with all eyes open.”
Wisconsin’s Mike Gallagher said during an interview as the votes went on that the biggest roadblock to Republicans uniting around McCarthy for speaker “seems to be just basic trust.”
Gallagher also questioned how McCarthy potentially giving into demands from the opposition group that a minimum number of its members be placed on certain committees, like Rules or Appropriations panels, would affect the conference.
“If you say, ‘Okay, you get X spots on the Rules Committee and X spots on the Appropriations Committee.’ Well, then every faction in the Republican caucus is going to [say], ‘I want three spots on Ag. I want, you know, 10 spots on Armed Services.’ Then it’s just chaos,” Gallagher said.
List of opponents
House GOP lawmakers voting for candidates other than McCarthy were: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Bishop of North Carolina, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Michael Cloud of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Eli Crane of Arizona, Donalds of Florida, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Harris of Maryland, Anna Luna of Florida, Mary Miller of Illinois, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andrew Ogles of Tennessee, Perry of Pennsylvania, Rosendale of Montana, Chip Roy of Texas and Keith Self of Texas.
Indiana’s Victoria Spartz continued voting present.
Boebert and Brecheen switched from backing Donalds to backing Oklahoma’s Hern, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 2018, though Hern has been voting for McCarthy.
Boebert said during a brief interview that she believes Hern “is the consensus candidate that everyone needs to rally behind and never move away from.”
Nebraska’s Don Bacon reiterated Thursday that a stronghold of the Republican conference will remain behind McCarthy.
“We’re in for the long haul,” he said.
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