Signs of a possible deal emerge in House speaker fight

For the third day in a row, Republicans were unable to break an ongoing, and now historic, logjam to elect a speaker, even as warnings mounted over the growing consequences of not having a functioning lower chamber of Congress.

But in a sign of progress, some Republicans are approaching a deal that could help Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) get closer to clinching the necessary 218 votes to take the gavel.

Holdouts appeared to be swayed by the latest offer McCarthy had made to them roughly 24 hours earlier. After hours of negotiations on the floor that led to four repeated failed votes for McCarthy, the impasse seemed to soften — at least for the moment.

“I felt good. I felt, I felt very positive yesterday,” McCarthy said as he left the Capitol late Thursday night. “I feel more positive today. I think we had really good discussions. I think it really comes to a really good point.”

According to three sources familiar with the deal, several holdouts are on the verge of agreeing to it and will vote in favor for McCarthy, though when that might happen remained unclear. The expectation is that though McCarthy will not get all the votes necessary to become speaker, it will show considerable momentum for him.

Through five rounds of voting Thursday — as with the six ballots that took place earlier in the week — McCarthy again failed to gain enough votes to become speaker. The ninth failed vote meant the 118th Congress would surpass the number of votes held a century ago — the last time such a stalemate over the speakership occurred — when it took the House nine ballots to elect a speaker in 1923.

Asked whether he ever expected that negotiations would drag on to the point where he broke a record, McCarthy alluded to his record speaking on the floor for 8½ hours last year and said, “I like to make history.”

Republicans eventually were able to secure adjournment until Friday, with numerous “Never Kevin” members and other holdouts voting in favor.

Despite making concessions to GOP right-wing hardliners, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) continues to struggle get enough votes to become House speaker. (Video: The Washington Post)

The stalemate continued despite McCarthy making fresh concessions during late-hour negotiations Wednesday to the 20 GOP lawmakers opposing him, according to four people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

In a major allowance to the hard-right Republicans, McCarthy offered to lower from five to one the number of members required to sponsor a resolution to force a vote on ousting the speaker — a change that the California Republican had previously said he would not accept.

McCarthy also expressed a willingness to place more members of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which debates legislation before it is moved 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 changes represented a stunning reversal that, if adopted, would weaken the position of speaker and ensure a tenuous hold on the job.

However, negotiations were still ongoing as the 11th ballot got underway, and it quickly became apparent that whatever headway had been made Wednesday night and Thursday morning was still being debated.

“Hold the line!” Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the 20 holdouts, tweetedThursday morning, even as McCarthy was assuring reporters that he was “making progress.”

People familiar with the negotiations had anticipated that McCarthy’s concessions could move people going into Thursday morning, but ahead of the first ballot of the day, McCarthy signaled to allies that he knew the votes would not change until a firm deal was reached between the factions, according to two Republicans who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing ongoing conversations.

After the dueling Republicans factions met with their allies across the Capitol complex Thursday morning, it became apparent that while a deal had not been struck, no group was rejecting McCarthy’s latest proposal either. Getting to yes would require the GOP holdouts and McCarthy allies to negotiate face-to-face behind closed doors right off the House floor, even though that has meant McCarthy losing 11 straight ballots

On the seventh through the 11th ballots, the same 20 GOP lawmakers who had opposed McCarthy all week voted against him once more — mostly uniting behind Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) in opposition. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has vowed never to support McCarthy, on Thursday proffered the name of former president Donald Trump when it came time to cast his vote for speaker. On the eighth ballot, Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), another “Never Kevin” hard-liner, voted for Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who appeared to be caught off guard and laughed at the surprise nomination.

Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) voted “present” four times Thursday, continuing to signal to her colleagues that they needed to reach a consensus before she resumed voting for McCarthy.

Throughout the day, McCarthy recognized that the impasse would continue “until an agreement comes.”

On the way back to the floor ahead of the ninth ballot, he remarked, “We’re working on it.”

During the Wednesday huddle in the office of whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), moderates Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), David Joyce (Ohio) and Dusty Johnson (S.D.) met with holdouts Chip Roy (Tex.), Donalds and Scott Perry (Pa.), with Emmer, McCarthy and Jim Jordan (Ohio) also on hand.

According to sources familiar with the meeting, the small gathering became a therapy session of sorts as members opened up about the deep frustration that led them to air their grievances publicly in a contentious closed-door conference Tuesday.

With feelings settled a bit, members thought they were restarting on a firmer ground of trust and understanding to discuss several concessions. The holdouts made their pitch that they would not misuse the motion to vacate if it were set to one person, noting that the spectacle of ousting a speaker when Jordan is in the middle of an oversight investigation or during a presidential campaign would make no sense.

Moderates, who had pledged never to support the rule change, have taken the holdouts at their word — but warned that if it is misused, they could band with Democrats and use a procedural maneuver called a discharge petition to circumvent the Rules Committee and GOP leadership to force a floor vote on bipartisan measures.

Other concessions such as changing the budgetary rules and voting on 12-year office limits for House members were also under consideration. But until all factions signed off and commitments were written in stone, members would continue to vote in the same way through Thursday.

House Democrats, meanwhile, remained united behind caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), who received 212 votes on all 11 ballots. When Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) nominated Donalds again for speaker, he told the chamber, “Yesterday we could have elected the first Black speaker of the House.” Democrats responded with a standing ovation and chants of “Ha-Keem! Ha-Keem!”

A chaotic energy permeated the House throughout the morning and afternoon as Republicans met with their respective factions. Unlike during the previous two days, McCarthy stayed out of his seat and spoke to as many members as possible Thursday, the center of a flurry of shuttle diplomacy on the floor.

Perry nearly missed his vote on the seventh ballot because he was making a television appearance on Fox News. Only after a frustrated lawmaker went to retrieve him — shouting, “You’re gonna miss the vote!” — did Perry make it back into the chamber to cast his vote for Donalds.

Tensions remained high Thursday, as frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aired their grievances. One Republican member recalled another GOP colleague telling them, “I wouldn’t piss on them if they are on fire,” referencing the anti-McCarthy holdouts.

“The handful holding up the speaker election is not helping Americans but directly hurting them.”

Bacon wrote

House Democrats continued to warn of the dangers of having an impotent branch of government, placing the blame squarely at the feet of the Republican Party.

“The historic dysfunction that we are seeing, this intraparty fight that the American people have been drawn into, is imperiling our national security,” Democrat Katherine M. Clark (Mass.) said. “It will imperil the ability of this government to deliver basic services. It is imperiling our jobs and our responsibility to serve our constituents. But it is also entirely predictable.”

Dylan Wells, Liz Goodwin and Paul Kane contributed to this report.


An earlier version of this article misidentified Tom Emmer as a lawmaker representing Missouri in Congress. He represents Minnesota. The article has been corrected.

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