WASHINGTON — U.S. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., lost a 10th vote for speaker of the House Thursday as far-right Republicans continued to deny him the long-awaited gavel.
Instead, they offered two more GOP alternatives: second-year Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who was first nominated Wednesday, and Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma. Hern’s unexpected nomination was first announced by Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, one of McCarthy’s most outspoken critics.
Hern has repeatedly voted for McCarthy to be spokesperson, but he didn’t say outright that he would turn down the job if McCarthy withdrew his name.
The emergence of another potential alternative to McCarthy was the latest setback in a frustrating day for the longtime GOP leader. Although voting is still ongoing, McCarthy has already lost at least five votes, making it impossible for him to secure the gavel. With 222 Republicans in the newly elected House of Representatives, he can only afford to lose four of them to reach the 218 needed to win the Speakership.
Earlier in the day, McCarthy sounded upbeat about talks between his top lieutenants and a group of about 20 GOP holdouts.
“I think everyone in the conversation wants to find a solution,” McCarthy said as he made his way into the House of Representatives chamber for the day’s first vote.
But less than two hours after voting began, another influential McCarthy holdout, Rep. Scott Perry, Pa., released an angry tweet accusing McCarthy of revealing details of internal negotiations.
That was one of several complaints aired publicly Thursday by McCarthy Holdouts.
In her nomination speech for Hern, Boebert accused McCarthy’s allies of threatening to withhold committee assignments from Republican members who did not support McCarthy. “That’s true,” she said, noting that it happened at a GOP conference meeting. “But we don’t rule out of fear.”
The continued absence of a Speaker has thrown the House into disarray, largely due to the fact that ordinary members cannot be sworn into office until a Speaker is elected and cannot set up their local or Washington offices. This means that all 434 members of the House still technically remain elected members, not official proxies.
Ahead of Thursday’s votes, Democratic Party leaders berated Republicans for the party’s dysfunction and stressed the damage days without a House Speaker would do to the legislature and the nation.
“We cannot organize our district offices, get our new members to do the political work of our constituent services, and minister to the people who sent us here on their behalf,” said new Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass. , reporters at the Capitol Thursday morning. “Kevin McCarthy’s ego in his quest for speaking at any cost drowns out the voices and needs of the American people.”
Democrats also stressed that the lack of a speaker threatens U.S. national security by preventing members of Congress from accessing classified information that is only available to lawmakers after taking the oath of office, which none of them have can do without a speaker.
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“Ultimately, we’re just asking Republicans to find a way for themselves to organize so that Congress can get together and do business with the American people,” Hakeem Jeffries, leader of the Democratic Minority, told a press conference with Clark .
Clark accused McCarthy of being “held hostage to his own ambitions”.
“This is about your responsibility to organize the government. It’s fundamental to us as members of Congress,” she said.
McCarthy, meanwhile, negotiated late on Wednesday with both allies and his opponents to try and reach an agreement that would land him the hammer after six failed votes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Republican leader of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reacts on the floor of the House chamber with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as Democrats force the House of Representatives to vote on whether to hold a late night session to continue against McCarthy’s wishes The contest for Speaker of the House continues on the second day of the 118th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, United States, on January 4, 2023
Jonathan Ernest | Reuters
The first major concession McCarthy agreed to Wednesday was a rule change that would allow any member of the party to vote at any time on whether to replace the Speaker of the House, a far lower threshold than the current bar, according to NBC News .
“Anyone, anywhere, anytime,” is how Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of McCarthy’s most staunch opponents, described the new rule to NBC late Wednesday night.
Gaetz also said McCarthy has agreed to appoint members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to positions on key committees, including the powerful House Rules Committee, which controls which bills get the floor for voting and which bills languish in committees indefinitely.
This change satisfied another demand from the extreme right that its constituent bloc be given more power to get their favorite bills on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) passionately addresses fellow conservative Republican House members at the center of the House Chamber after a fourth round of voting still failed, US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), to be elected the new Speaker of the House on the second day of the 118th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, United States, January 4, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein Reuters
McCarthy’s allies didn’t deny he had agreed to new concessions, NBC reported, but they declined to confirm details.
“The question is movement and positive movement,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, told NBC News and other reporters camped outside the meeting rooms late Wednesday night. “We had an afternoon of very positive discussions and there seems to be goodwill among Republicans and McCarthy that’s developing in a very nice way.”
The limited progress came after McCarthy failed in seven votes over two days to reach the minimum number required to become Speaker. Not only had McCarthy failed to reach 218, but over the course of two days McCarthy’s support had actually shrunk from 203 to 200 after Donalds, Victoria Spartz, R-Ind. and another Republican had dropped their support.
Democrats stayed in lockstep throughout all of the voting, casting their 212 ballots for Jeffries.
New Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), new Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) and new Democratic Faction Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill on December 13, 2022 in Washington, USA, from.
Elisabeth Franz | Reuters
This is an evolving story and will be updated throughout the day.