The House has adjourned for the third day without electing a new speaker after Kevin McCarthy continued to suffer a string of defeats in multiple rounds of voting on Thursday. As the fight for the gavel drags on, it has now become the longest speaker contest in 164 years.
Each failed vote only increases pressure on McCarthy to end the impasse, but it is unclear whether he will be able to pull it off as the situation grows increasingly dire for his future political prospects.
Even after proposing major concessions to his hardline conservative opponents late Wednesday, the California Republican has still not yet been able to lock in the 218 votes he needs to win the gavel. The longer the fight drags out, the more dire it becomes for McCarthy’s future, as it risks further defections and a loss of confidence in the GOP leader.
McCarthy said after the House’s adjournment Thursday that progress had been made in negotiations but he would not put a “timeline” on when he could get to 218 votes. “So if this takes a little longer and it doesn’t meet your deadline, that’s OK,” he told reporters.
McCarthy also addressed criticisms that differences among the caucus weren’t resolved before the contest for speaker began this week, saying they “tried to sort it out” before January 3.
Talks have continued among Republicans as the GOP majority hopes to find a path forward. Negotiators between the McCarthy allies and opponents are pushing for a deal Thursday night in attempt to show progress, according to a source in talks. They believe they have made significant progress, but they are still haggling over some of the details. Complicating matters is the fact that at least four Republican members are leaving town Friday because of various family issues.
An agreement is close with Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and McCarthy’s team, led by Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, according to multiple sources. If they can get an agreement, they would be able to get the votes to adjourn the chamber for the night. But that still wouldn’t get McCarthy to 218 votes – the threshold he needs to hit – since there are other members who have concerns that haven’t been addressed.
Patience is wearing thin among lawmakers and moderates have also grown increasingly frustrated over the concessions, which many believe may make it harder for the new GOP majority to effectively govern, though they will likely still swallow them.
McCarthy was defiant on Thursday in the face of the stiff headwinds, saying that he will continue to face opposition until he reaches a deal with his detractors.
“It’s all going to be this way until an agreement comes,” he told CNN. “It’s easier if we’re able to all get an agreement together.”
Asked by CNN the point he would make a realization that the outcome won’t change, McCarthy said: “After I win.”
In a series of new concessions first reported by CNN Wednesday night, McCarthy agreed to propose a rules change that would allow just one member to call for a vote to oust a sitting speaker, according to two sources familiar with the matter. McCarthy had initially proposed a five-member threshold, down from current conference rules that require half of the GOP to call for such a vote.
He told reporters after the House adjourned Thursday that he’s not concerned about giving just one member the power to call for a vote to oust the speaker, saying he was “very fine with that.”
“I’m not afraid. … I won’t be a weaker speaker,” he said.
McCarthy also agreed to allow for more members of the Freedom Caucus to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee, which dictates how and whether bills come to the floor, and to vote on a handful of bills that are priorities for the holdouts, including proposing term limits on members and a border security plan.
Republican sources say that even if McCarthy’s offers are accepted, it would still not get him the 218 votes he needs to be speaker. While these concessions could attract some new support, other opponents have raised different concerns that have yet to be fully addressed.
McCarthy has already made a number of concessions to his opponents, though so far his efforts have not been enough. But sources said the talks Wednesday between McCarthy allies and holdouts have been the most productive and serious ones to date. And in one sign of a breakthrough, a McCarthy-aligned super PAC agreed to not play in open Republican primaries in safe seats – one of the big demands that conservatives had asked for but that McCarthy had resisted until this point.
One moderate Republican told CNN Thursday morning that they aren’t happy about the concessions, though they are willing to have “discussions” about them.
The fear is that lowering the threshold for a vote to oust the speaker to one member will make governing on items like the debt limit and funding almost impossible.
“I don’t like the rules but am willing to hear discussions. I think they’re a mistake for the conference. These handful of folks want a weak speaker with a four-vote majority. The public will not like what they see of the GOP, I fear,” the member said.
The fight over the speakership, which began Tuesday on the first day of the 118th Congress, has thrown the new House GOP majority into chaos and undercut the party’s agenda.
McCarthy has so far come up short in multiple rounds of voting. The final GOP tally for the sixth vote, which took place on Wednesday, was 201 for McCarthy, 20 for Florida Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida and one “present” vote.
In the seventh ballot, McCarthy still had 20 total GOP lawmakers voting against him, except this time GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz voted for former President Donald Trump, while the other 19 voted for Donalds. GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz voted present again. The final tally was 201 for McCarthy, 19 for Donalds, one for Trump and one present vote.
The final tally for the eighth ballot was 201 for McCarthy, 17 for Donalds, two for GOP Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, one for Trump and one present vote.
The final tally for the ninth ballot was 200 for McCarthy, 17 for Donalds, 3 for Hern, and 1 present vote. Buck, who has supported McCarthy, did not vote that round.
In the tenth vote, McCarthy still had 20 total GOP lawmakers voting against him. The final tally was 200 for McCarthy, 13 for Donalds, seven for Hern and one present vote.
On the eleventh ballot, there were 200 for McCarthy, 12 for Donalds, seven for Hern, one for Trump and one present vote.
The House will remain paralyzed until this standoff is resolved. This is the first time an election for speaker has gone to multiple ballots since 1923.
To be elected speaker, a candidate needs to win a majority of members who vote for a specific person on the House floor. That amounts to 218 votes if no member skips the vote or votes “present.”
House Republicans won 222 seats in the new Congress, so for McCarthy to reach 218, he can only afford to lose four GOP votes.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.