WASHINGTON — U.S. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., lost a 10th vote for House speaker on Thursday, as far right Republicans continued to deny him the long-sought gavel.
They instead offered two other GOP alternatives: Florida sophomore Rep. Byron Donalds, who was first nominated on 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 detractors.
Hern has consistently voted for McCarthy for speaker, but he has not said outright that he would reject the job if McCarthy withdraws his name.
The emergence of another potential alternative to McCarthy was the latest setback in a frustrating day for the longtime GOP leader. Although the vote 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, he can only afford to lose four of them to reach the 218 needed to win the speakership.
Earlier in the day, McCarthy sounded optimistic about talks between his top lieutenants and a group of around 20 GOP holdouts.
“I think everyone in the conversation wants to find a solution,” McCarthy said on his way into the House chamber for the day’s first vote.
But less than two hours after votes began, another influential McCarthy holdout, Rep. Scott Perry, Pa., posted an angry tweet accusing McCarthy of leaking details of internal negotiations.
This was one of several complaints publicly aired by McCarthy holdouts on Thursday.
In her nomination speech for Hern, Boebert accused McCarthy’s allies of threatening to withhold committee assignments from Republican members who did not back McCarthy. “That is true,” she said, noting that it happened in a GOP conference meeting. “But we don’t govern in fear.”
The continued absence of a speaker has left the House in disarray, largely due to the fact that rank-and-file members can’t be sworn into office until a speaker is elected and cannot set up their local or Washington offices. This leaves all 434 members of the House technically still members-elect, not official voting representatives.
Ahead of Thursday’s votes, Democratic Party leaders berated Republicans for the party’s dysfunction, and emphasized the harm that going days without a House speaker was inflicting on the legislative branch and the nation.
“We cannot organize our district offices, get our new members doing that political work of our constituent services, helping serve the people who sent us here on their behalf,” incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., told reporters in the Capitol Thursday morning. “Kevin McCarthy’s ego in his pursuit of the speakership at all costs is drowning out the voices and the needs of the American people.”
Democrats also emphasized that the absence of a speaker was threatening U.S. national security by keeping members of Congress from accessing classified intelligence that is only available to lawmakers after they have taken the oath of office, which none of them can take without a speaker.
“At the end of the day, all we are asking Republicans to do is to figure out a way for themselves to organize so the Congress can get together and do the business of the American people,” Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a press conference with Clark.
Clark accused McCarthy of being “held hostage to his own ambitions.”
“This is about your responsibility to organize government. It is fundamental to who we are as members of Congress,” she said.
McCarthy, meanwhile, negotiated late into the night Wednesday with both allies and his opponents to try to strike a deal that would get him the gavel, following six failed votes over Tuesday and Wednesday.
U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reacts on the floor of the House Chamber with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as Democrats force the House to vote on whether to continue a late evening session against McCarthy’s wishes, while the competition for Speaker of the House continues, on the second day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2023
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The first major concession McCarthy agreed to Wednesday was a change to the rules to allow any member of the party to call for a vote on whether to replace the House speaker at any time, a far lower threshold than the current bar, according to NBC News.
“Any one, any where, any time,” is how Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of McCarthy’s staunchest opponents, described the new rule to NBC late Wednesday night.
Gaetz also said McCarthy had agreed to name members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to positions on key committees, including the powerful House Rules Committee, which controls which bills make it to the floor for a vote and which bills languish indefinitely in committees.
This change satisfied another demand from the far right, that its bloc of members be given more power to push their preferred bills to the House floor.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) passionately addresses other conservative Republican members of the House in the middle of the House Chamber after a fourth round of voting still failed to elect U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as new Speaker of the House on the second day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
McCarthy’s allies did not deny that he had agreed to new concessions, NBC reported, but they refused to confirm specifics.
“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’ve had an afternoon turned evening of very positive discussions and there seems to be goodwill around Republicans and McCarthy that is shaping up in a very nice way.”
The limited progress came after McCarthy had failed in seven votes over two days to reach the minimum number needed to become speaker. Not only had McCarthy failed to hit 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 dropped their support.
Democrats, meanwhile, have remained in lockstep throughout all the votes, casting their 212 ballots for Jeffries.
Incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) and incoming Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2022.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.