McCarthy Quest for Speaker Gavel Falls Short for Third Straight Day

January 5, 2023 by Dan McCue
McCarthy Quest for Speaker Gavel Falls Short for Third Straight Day
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., is followed by reporters as he heads to the House Floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — If there can be any such thing as hanging above the abyss on a yo-yo string, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., may just be accomplishing that feat.

For the third straight day, in vote after vote, the man who says he still fully expects to be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives fell 20 votes short of his goal.

Meanwhile, the patience of several members-elect of the chamber appeared to be fraying.

Over the course of the day on Thursday, members of the Freedom Caucus, who have blocked McCarthy’s path to victory, accused their prospective leader of bargaining in bad faith, betraying confidences and threatening to withhold committee assignments.

All this on a day that started promisingly enough with word of a major breakthrough on the financing of primary candidates in safe Republican districts, something conservatives had claimed was intended to keep their numbers down in Congress.

Given that and other rumored concessions, McCarthy was able to maintain that things were “moving in the right” direction before the seventh round of voting got underway early Thursday afternoon.

Observers who have had eyes glued to the chamber since Monday arrived on the Hill or sat down before their computer screens wondering if there may well be a splintering of the so-called “Never Kevin” vote.

Then came a series of comments online and elsewhere by Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pa., that suggested today would not be McCarthy’s day after all.

In a tweet apparently aimed at tamping down on expectations, Perry announced that “a deal is not done.”

“When confidences are betrayed and leaks are directed, it’s even more difficult to trust.  Totally unsatisfied. I will not yield to the status quo,” he said.

Within an hour of sending that tweet, Perry was on Fox News, delivering the same message.

Later, Perry told reporters, “we’re not even really talking about a deal.”

What movement there was in the subsequent voting was not in McCarthy’s favor. 

While some of his opponents did switch their votes from Florida’s Republican Byron Donalds, who’d been garnering all 19 dissenting votes, they switched them to candidates not named McCarthy. 

For instance, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has vowed never to vote for the House Republican leader, voted for former President Donald Trump on at least two of Thursday’s first three ballots. 

Meanwhile Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Josh Brecheen, R-Okla., switched to Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma on the eighth ballot.

By the 10th ballot, Boebert was placing Hern’s name into formal consideration as a “consensus” candidate.

Perhaps the best line of the day came when a reporter asked Donalds whether he worried about retribution after so publicly opposing McCarthy.

“Man, I’m 6’2″, 275, I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I mean, seriously.”

After 10 rounds of balloting, McCarthy had failed to garner more than 201 votes, while Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., received all 212 Democratic votes.

That outcome, time and again, prompted a GOP staffer, speaking on background, to suggest an end to the standoff might not be had for weeks.

That could prove exceedingly problematic. Without a speaker, the members of the House can’t be sworn in and therefore can’t begin to do their work. According to some reporters, the ability to pay committee staff salaries could be imperiled if no speaker is selected by Jan. 13.

In a joint statement, Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California said their party members were “united and ready to get to work.”

“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,” they continued.

Republicans and Democrats have been entrusted to tackle the problems facing the people we “are privileged to represent,” they said. “Voters sent us here to get to work on our basic congressional responsibilities like the National Defense Authorization, farm bill, government funding, and to protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America. Three days later and Republicans are no closer to undertaking these solemn duties.”

In a separate notice to her fellow Democrats, Clark urged them to stand by while the drama in the well of the House continues.

“If the speaker is elected and receives the oath of office, they will administer the oath to members and delegates,” she said. “If no candidate receives 218 votes, the House will continue voting until a speaker is elected or the House agrees to adjourn.

“Members are advised that they should be prepared to stay in Washington, D.C., until a speaker is elected. Additional information about the vote schedule will be announced as soon as it becomes available,” Clark said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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