McCarthy sees progress in bid to be speaker as stalemate heads into third day

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Stalled by infighting over who should become speaker, the new House Republican majority Wednesday grew increasingly frustrated with a revolt by a faction of conservatives that has paralyzed Congress and tarnished the GOP’s image.

For the second day in a row, 20 conservatives voted in unison to block Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California from winning the speaker’s gavel, stopping the House from organizing and preventing the 434 lawmakers elected in November from taking the oath of office and officially starting their two-year terms.

Mr. McCarthy refused to bow out and said he was making progress in his daunting quest for the speakership. After meeting with some of the key holdouts, he told reporters more votes on Wednesday evening would not “make any difference,” as he planned to seek an adjournment until Thursday.

“I think a vote in the future will” make a difference, he said.

One of the Republican holdouts who met with Mr. McCarthy, Rep.-elect Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, called the meeting “productive.”

Locked out of governing, House lawmakers have been stuck on the House floor since Tuesday while taking a half-dozen votes to elect a speaker with nearly identical, unsuccessful results.

The House adjourned for about three hours Wednesday afternoon with plans to reconvene that evening, giving Mr. McCarthy and the GOP time to work out an agreement that would end the gridlock.

Mr. McCarthy, 57, enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the GOP conference, but lawmakers who back him are growing wary of the nearly unprecedented stalemate and are concerned the holdouts, who have increased in number from 19 to 20, may never give Mr. McCarthy the votes he needs to claim the speaker’s gavel.

Mr. McCarthy must secure the support of at least sixteen of the holdouts to get a majority on the House floor required to elect a speaker. Mr. McCarthy had hoped some of the holdouts would give up their opposition by Wednesday. Instead, they appear more determined to block him. 

Rep.-elect Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican and a McCarthy backer, said she did not believe Mr. McCarthy should step aside at this point, but she wants the House GOP to hold a closed-door meeting on the matter, which, she said, “could have some positive outcomes in terms of other opportunities and alternatives.”

Mr. McCarthy will continue to have her support if he truly believes he can eventually win the votes. 

“But the fact of the matter is there comes a time when we want to govern,” Mrs. Wagner said. “I was sent here to govern, to get things done. And this is the complete opposite of that.”

Other lawmakers are pressuring Mr. McCarthy to quickly cut a deal with the holdouts to end the stalemate and start the legislative session.

“He needs to either make a deal to bring the 19 or 20 over or he needs to step aside to give somebody the chance to do that,” Rep-elect Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who has so far voted for Mr. McCarthy, said on CNN Wednesday.

Mr. McCarthy met with some of the holdouts on Wednesday evening. 

The group is seeking changes to House rules that would weaken the speaker’s position and empower their faction to advance their agenda, particularly on reining in government spending.

One of the changes they seek would reinstate a rule allowing a single lawmaker to call up a vote to eject a speaker.

They want promises that the GOP agenda will include term limits for House lawmakers, a balanced budget measure, a bill to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and legislation advancing their favored strategy to secure the southern border. The lawmakers want a new rule to ensure a minimum of 72 hours is provided to review legislation ahead of a vote, and they want an end to rushed consideration of massive government spending bills that have contributed to inflation and a soaring debt and deficit.

“I want the leadership and the tools to go fight against the swamp and what they are doing to the American people,” said Rep.-elect Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and one of the 20 holdouts.

A small group of lawmakers who have voted against Mr. McCarthy has pledged to never change their vote. 

Rep.-elect  Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is perhaps the most vocal McCarthy critic in the conference, met with him. When he spoke with reporters on his way out, he complained Mr. McCarthy is inappropriately “squatting” in the speaker’s office on the second floor of the Capitol.

“I’m willing to vote all night, all week, all month and never for that person,” Mr. Gaetz said. He called Mr. McCarthy “a desperate guy” who is losing support.

But Mr. McCarthy’s backing from the rank-and-file has mostly held steady. He lost the backing of one lawmaker who is now voting “present.” A second Republican, Rep.-elect Byron Donalds of Florida, began voting with the original 19 holdouts on Tuesday and was nominated by the group as their choice for speaker on Wednesday. 

Many Republican lawmakers agree that Mr. McCarthy shouldn’t completely give in to the rebel faction. 

A group of Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee staged a press conference Wednesday to show their support for Mr. McCarthy and to slam the holdouts for preventing their committee from constituting and getting to work helping vets. 

They warned that the GOP conference is willing to negotiate with the holdouts – but not without limits.

“We will compromise, but we will not capitulate,” Rep-elect Derrick Van Orden, of Wisconsin, said. “There are 222 Republicans in our conference now, so if 20 people are able to drive the train however they want to, 202 of us may as well go home. That means those 20 people are the majority, and that is capitulation.”

So far, no one outside of the 20 holdouts is publicly naming McCarthy alternatives. But incoming Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, is considered by many GOP lawmakers to be the next in line and the one most likely to win enough votes if Mr. McCarthy ever gives up. 

Mr. Scalise has been busy trying to help Mr. McCarthy negotiate with the holdouts, as has Rep.-elect Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the favored alternatives who McCarthy opponents nominated Tuesday in two rounds of voting.

Lawmakers are hoping that by Thursday, the gridlock will start to break.

“If he starts to lose more support then that is not helpful,” Rep-elect and McCarthy ally Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said. “It’s just a battle of wills between the 20 versus the majority of our party.”

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