Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pulled many of the members opposing him to his side but still lost historic 12th and 13th bids for House speaker on Friday afternoon.
Fourteen members who had previously gone against McCarthy on Thursday switched their votes in favor of him in the 12th round, earning applause from GOP members in the chamber. Another member, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., flipped in the 13th round.
McCarthy can still only afford at most four defections if the entire House votes, but he told CNN after the 13th round that he believed he had the votes to be elected speaker Friday night. The House will continue voting indefinitely until a majority settles on a candidate.
After previously opposing McCarthy this week, the Republicans who switched their votes the 12th round were Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Michael Cloud of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Byron Donalds of Florida, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Anna Luna of Florida, Mary Miller of Illinois, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andy Ogles of Tennessee, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Chip Roy of Texas, Keith Self of Texas and Victoria Spartz of Indiana.
When Luna voted, she cited “pending negotiations in good faith” while Self said “We are making progress.”
McCarthy lost three rounds of voting on Tuesday, three rounds on Wednesday and five rounds on Thursday. This is the first time since 1923 that the process has necessitated more than one ballot and the first time since 1859 that it has needed more than nine rounds.
Thursday’s voting saw 20 Republicans choose a candidate other than McCarthy and one vote “present,” which hurt his cause. Alternates voted for by Republicans included Donalds, Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., and former President Donald Trump. There is no requirement for the speaker to be a current member of the House so Trump is technically eligible.
After nominating Trump on Thursday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., nominated Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as an alternative on Friday, although Jordan has been consistent in his support of McCarthy. Some Republican members walked out during Gaetz’s Friday speech.
The six remaining votes against McCarthy came from Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Eli Crane of Arizona, Gaetz, Bob Good of Virginia and Matt Rosendale of Montana.
A number of Republicans spent Friday morning on a conference call with McCarthy, who told reporters he had flipped some of the votes against him on the way to the floor. Trump affirmed his support for McCarthy Wednesday morning, but that didn’t sway any of the opposition. On Friday morning, Yahoo News reported that a number of the anti-McCarthy members met at the think tank of Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff.
Friday’s votes coincided with the two-year anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. McCarthy was one of the 139 GOP representatives who objected to the formal counting of the electoral votes showing Biden won.
“I came to Washington to change the status quo, and the brave stand of 20 members-elect has procured an agreement that makes substantial progress on that score,” Bishop, the North Carolina congressman, said in a statement following his flipped vote.
“We’re at a turning point. I’ve negotiated in good faith, with one purpose: to restore the People’s House back to its rightful owners. The framework for an agreement is in place,” Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and chair of the far-right Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter.
Perry was a key figure in Trump’s attempt to overturn the election and has been investigated by the Justice Department. The McCarthy holdouts were pushing to ensure there was no clean vote on raising the debt limit later this year, joining McCarthy and a number of top Republicans in a plan to push for cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare in exchange for avoiding a national debt default.
Those opposing McCarthy have said that he is too representative of the status quo in Congress and that there is a need for new leadership. Prior to the ninth vote, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., formally nominated Hern, saying, “We need a leader that is not of the broken system. Someone who is not beholden to the lobbyists but to the people who sent us here. Someone who can unite our party and, most importantly, someone who can deliver on the promises that we have all made to the American people."
McCarthy attempted to woo his GOP critics by endorsing rule changes, including one that would make it easier for a smaller group of members to challenge leadership in a procedure known as vacating the chair, as well as angling for preferred committee assignments for those critics. He made more concessions to the opposition over the course of Wednesday night.
McCarthy, who had lost a bid for speaker in 2015, urged the party to support him in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, saying, “I earned this job.” He and his allies have vowed to continue with as many ballots as it takes, but it’s possible he will be forced to withdraw, or that a different consensus candidate — such as the House GOP’s No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana — will emerge.
The last time the selection of a House speaker took more than one ballot was in 1923, when nine ballots were required for Frederick Gillett to take the gavel. In 1855, it took the 34th Congress 133 ballots and two months to settle on Nathaniel Prentice Banks.
Democrats have remained united behind New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who succeeded former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as their party’s House leader last month after she stepped down.
"This is their problem," Pelosi told reporters Wednesday of her Republican colleagues. "Their lack of respect for this institution. Their lack of respect for the responsibility that we all have to respect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Get the job done for the American people." Asked how she would describe this moment, she added, "This is very sad."
Speaking at the White House Wednesday morning, President Biden called the chaos among Republicans "embarrassing" and "not a good look," adding, "I hope they get their act together," before noting that his own focus was on "getting things done."
"That’s not my problem," Biden said. "I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long."
On Tuesday, the Senate selected a Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, as the first female president pro tem in the chamber’s history, replacing Sen. Patrik Leahy, D-Vt., who retired. The chain of succession for president is vice president, House speaker, then president pro tem. Murray joked Tuesday, referring to her place in line, "Well, today I’m second, because Kevin McCarthy’s not speaker."