House adjourns until Friday night as McCarthy tries to nail down final votes

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker of the House collapsed spectacularly on Friday night, after steep concessions to a hard-right faction of the narrow GOP majority that McCarthy suggested had clinched him the job resulted in yet another failed vote that appeared to blindside the Republican.

The House began its 14th vote on the speakership just after 10 p.m., with McCarthy and his allies projecting confidence he would finally clinch the speakership. But four of the original 20 holdouts continued to vote against McCarthy, while two of them — Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — voted present.

That left McCarthy short just one vote of the speakership — the closest he has been all week.

McCarthy allies swarmed Gaetz on the floor and tried to persuade the Florida Republican to change his vote, with Republican Mike Rogers of Alabama storming into the huddle and seeming on the brink of violence. Rogers then retreated to a cloakroom off the floor.

Democrats and Republicans alike appeared stunned by the turn of events, and the chamber was nearly silent as people processed what was going on.

Republicans’ infighting over the speakership has caused a logjam unprecedented in modern history. With 14 failed rounds of voting, the House surpassed the number of votes it endured — nine — the last time such a stalemate occurred, in 1923.

McCarthy was able to make some progress on Friday after his allies worked to hammer out a framework on Thursday that resulted in 14 of the 20 holdouts voting for him on Friday afternoon on the 12th ballot, prompting cheers from the Republican side of the aisle.

Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who for months had telegraphed that he was dead-set against McCarthy, shocked some of his colleagues with his reversal. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who had voted “present” over the previous two days to urge her colleagues to reach consensus, resumed backing McCarthy.

“The potential of what’s been described to us, pending approval, is transformative to empower the rank and file.”

Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), who flipped for McCarthy, said after the 12th ballot.

On the 13th ballot, McCarthy gained support from one more holdout, Andy Harris (R-Md.), capping the most momentum he had seen all week. Still, those 214 votes were not enough.

All Republicans then agreed to adjourn until Friday evening to allow for the return of two pro-McCarthy members who had missed the 12th and 13th ballots: Wesley Hunt (Tex.) and Ken Buck (Colo.). Hunt had flown back to Texas to be with his wife, who just days before had delivered a baby several weeks premature and had since returned to the hospital with complications. Buck had traveled to Colorado for a medical procedure. The entire chamber stood and applauded after Hunt voted for McCarthy.

Even with their votes back in his column, McCarthy needed at least two more of the remaining six GOP holdouts to vote for him— or for at least three of them to vote “present,” thus lowering the majority threshold.

“Today was a big breakthrough day. We’re going to keep talking. Maybe tonight, we see some improvements,” Steve Scalise (R-La.), a McCarthy supporter, said after the House adjourned in the afternoon.

But Eli Crane (Ariz.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matthew M. Rosendale (Mont.) and Bob Good (Va.) continued to vote against McCarthy late Friday, leaving him short.

The days-long struggle to choose a speaker has raised fears across the Capitol that McCarthy would not be able to manage his narrow majority or effectively govern.

That could lead to trouble when Democrats and Republicans must act later this year to raise the country’s debt ceiling — which allows the United States to borrow to pay its bills — or else risk the fiscal calamity of a default. Many of the holdouts said they extracted promises from McCarthy to tie a debt ceiling increase to spending cuts that would raise the chances of a standoff — although McCarthy’s allies have downplayed those cuts as “aspirational.” And proposed new House rules remove a key legislative tool that leaders might have used to address the debt ceiling in the event of a political standoff.

But McCarthy dismissed concerns his majority would be unable to function effectively, calling the days-long process of the election during which no member could be sworn in “great.”

“Because it took this long, now we learned how to govern,” he said Friday afternoon. “So now we’ll be able to get the job done.”

McHenry (R-N.C.), in nominating McCarthy for the 14th ballot, pushed back on the notion that the history-making standoff was “embarrassing,” as President Biden called it earlier this week. “We know it’s messy, but open and transparent debate is what sets us apart from authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Meanwhile, as they had all week, House Democrats unanimously backed caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), who received 211 and 212 votes in Friday’s voting rounds. (Maryland Democrat David Trone missed the 12th ballot to undergo a surgery, but by 2 p.m. had returned to the House — still wearing his hospital socks — for the 13th ballot.)

Before the House convened, the incumbent Democrats who had survived the Capitol insurrection in the House chamber two years earlier showed up early to place purses, scarves and other personal belongings as placeholders on seats so they could sit together, in a physical display of their unity.

For the first time in over 200 years, after 11 rounds of voting, we are unable to organize and begin to work on behalf of those who elected us to serve,” James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said as he nominated Jeffries on Friday. “Democrats are offering a candidate for speaker, Hakeem Jeffries, who is not just prepared to lead, but committed to preserving this democracy and enhance it.”

The concessions McCarthy has made to hard-right Republicans include lowering, from five to one, the number of members required to force a vote on ousting the speaker — a change that the California Republican had previously said he would not accept.

McCarthy also expressed willingness to place more members of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which debates legislation before it moves to the floor. And he relented on allowing floor votes to institute term limits on members and to enact specific border policy legislation.

The proposed rule change represents a stunning reversal that, if adopted, would weaken the position of speaker and make his hold on the job highly tenuous.

“I think the House is in a lot better place with some of the work that’s been done to democratize power out of the speakership and into the membership,” Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told reporters Friday afternoon after lawmakers voted to adjourn. “That’s been our goal.”

He reiterated that he wanted either to see McCarthy defeated or to change House rules so that McCarthy was imprisoned in “a functional straitjacket.”

After executing “phase one” of the plan to get to this point, key McCarthy allies and several former holdouts deployed “phase two”: aggressively putting pressure on the remaining six.

It took some time — and some cooling temperatures — to reach that state of projected confidence. It was clear Friday that impatience and frustration within the GOP had boiled over into open animosity between its pro- and anti-McCarthy factions. As Gaetz nominated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker on the 12th ballot, he accused McCarthy of dragging out an impossible campaign as “an exercise in vanity.”

“You only earn the position of speaker of the House if you can get the votes,” Gaetz said. “Mr. McCarthy doesn’t have the votes today. He will not have the votes tomorrow and he will not have the votes next week, next month, next year.”

Gaetz’s speech prompted Michael Bost (R-Ill.), a McCarthy supporter, to interrupt him with angry shouting, something that had not happened during the first three days of balloting. Other GOP lawmakers walked off the House floor in silent protest.

“It’s just personal attacks,” Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) told reporters after storming out. He said Gaetz was breaking rules by attacking McCarthy, rather than promoting his candidate, in a nominating speech.

It was periodically acknowledged Friday that it was the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, when a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol seeking to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win.

In his nomination speech for Jeffries, Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said the vote will set the country on “the path to division.”

“The same individuals who fanned the flames of January 6th, who told their followers … that they needed to fight back and who challenged the swearing in of members based on a bogus claim of fake electors may well be in charge of the people’s House,” Aguilar said. “If they can ever agree on who can lead them.”

Theodoric Meyer, Jacqueline Alemany, Paul Kane, Camila DeChalus, Tony Romm and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.

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