After spending the last 48 hours on life support, Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership is seeing a potential revival.
Following a rollercoaster of a day during which the California Republican failed three more times to secure the 218 votes for the gavel, McCarthy and some of his critics finally got in a room and had what both sides are describing as productive conversations.
McCarthy has offered his critics a number of new concessions, though negotiations remain ongoing and fluid. A person well-placed to describe the state of play told POLITICO that the concessions include:
A one-member “motion to vacate”: The GOP leader appears to have finally acquiesced to a demand to lower the threshold needed to force a vote ousting a speaker to just one member. While McCarthy originally indicated that restoring the one-member “motion to vacate” was a red line, his allies now argue that there’s not a huge practical difference between this and his previous offer of requiring five members to trigger the vote.
Rules Committee seats for the Freedom Caucus: McCarthy is prepared to give the House Freedom Caucus two seats on the powerful House Rules Committee, which oversees the amendment process for the floor. (Some conservatives are still holding out for four seats on the panel.) There are also talks about giving a third seat to a conservative close to the Freedom Caucus but not in it — someone like Rep.
of Kentucky. Who would pick those members is still under discussion. Typically, it’s the speaker’s prerogative, but conservatives want to choose their own members for these jobs.
A vote on term limits: This is a key demand of Rep.
(R-S.C.), who has proposed a constitutional amendment limiting lawmakers to three terms in the House.
Major changes to the appropriations process: Fears of another trillion-plus-dollar omnibus spending bill have been a major driver of the conservative backlash to McCarthy. The brewing deal includes a promise for standalone votes on each of the 12 annual appropriations bills, which would be considered under what is known as an “open rule,” allowing floor amendments to be offered by any lawmaker.
Conservatives also won a concession to carve out any earmarks included in those packages for separate votes, though it’s unclear whether they’d be voted on as one package or separately.
The late-night negotiations followed another major breakthrough for the GOP leader: The McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund reached a deal with the conservative Club for Growth, which had initially signaled opposition to a Speaker McCarthy, to stay out of open House primaries for safe Republican seats.
In the past, the two groups often found themselves at war with each other, with CLF pouring in millions to back establishment candidates while the Club endorsed those on the far right. In return for that promise, the Club has dropped its opposition to McCarthy.
Whether this will be enough to land McCarthy the speakership is still unclear.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) — who following a feisty Tuesday night TV exchange with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham played a major role getting talks moving on Wednesday — indicated to GOP leaders that he could bring along as many as 10 McCarthy detractors, CNN reported — and possibly persuade convince others to vote “present.” That won’t get him to 218, but McCarthy’s camp hopes it might just provide a final boost allowing him to close the gap after a hellish two days.
Still, even McCarthy’s closest allies say this isn’t over just yet.
One GOP leadership aide said they believe there are still five “hard no’s” against McCarthy — Reps. Matt Gaetz, (Fla.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Bob Good (Va.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.). McCarthy can only lose four.
As he left the Capitol Wednesday night, Norman told reporters he hadn’t changed his position on opposing McCarthy. But the terms of this possible deal were still being ironed out at that point, including his own term-limits proposal.
McCarthy allies are also worried about freshman Rep. Eli Crane (Ariz.), who has been a hard “no.”
But as of 1 a.m., the thinking in McCarthy’s camp was that if they can winnow down his opposition from 20 to a half-dozen or so, the pressure on the remaining holdouts will be so great that enough will cave.
However, one McCarthy ally cautioned us that the situation could “get worse before it gets better.” There’s an expectation that McCarthy could lose a handful of votes from exasperated members if balloting continues today.
Meanwhile, time is running out as some McCarthy backers frustrated by the stalemate eye an exit strategy. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former Rules Committee chair long considered an ally of GOP leadership, insisted on CNN last night that members should start discussing other potential speaker candidates, such as Steve Scalise (R-La.), the expected incoming majority leader.
“I’m telling you these 19 people are dug in,” he said of McCarthy’s foes, suggesting Republicans could only realistically tolerate about “three or four more rounds” of voting.
The wheeling and dealing probably isn’t over, and may take a few days to nail down. “I still don’t see this getting resolved in the near term. Maybe more likely over the weekend and into next week,” cautioned one GOP lawmaker.
McCarthy’s camp also expects that he may eventually have to endorse conservatives for committee gavels, such as Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), who’s pushing to lead the Health and Human Services subcommittee on Appropriations, or Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), who’s gunning to lead the Committee on Homeland Security. (Those decisions are subject to the approval of the GOP steering committee, though McCarthy’s influence is significant.)
If the horsetrading gets that far, it’s bound to upset many House Republicans who have supported McCarthy all along. Centrists or even mainstream conservatives will no doubt argue that McCarthy is rewarding bad behavior.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), for example, also wants the Homeland Security gavel.
One senior Republican aide said Wednesday night that McCarthy’s concessions would undercut the party in the long run.
“He’s essentially given away all the power of the speakership. He’s making it to where these Freedom Caucus guys can stop anything they want,” the aide said. “It’s a vanity project. This majority is going to be miserable. It’s just absurd what he’s given away to these guys just to be speaker when I’m sure there’s somebody in this conference that the Freedom Caucus would have accepted as speaker and not demanded all of these crazy changes.”
Meanwhile, there’s one wild card that has McCarthy’s camp more worried: “I think Gaetz and other [‘Never Kevin’ lawmakers] are going to blow this up,” one top McCarthy confidant said. Indeed, on Wednesday night, Gaetz crashed negotiating sessions he was not invited to.
The rebels and McCarthy and his whip team are slated to talk early Thursday morning, after conservatives have had time to mull over his latest offers and scrutinize them on paper. The House will gavel in at noon to continue voting on the speakership. There’s been some talk about adjourning to continue negotiations, though they’d have to get a majority to do so.
Some have even floated postponing votes until next week — though others in the party have pushed back on that idea.
The potential breakthrough came at the end of what began as an abysmal day for McCarthy, with his speakership dreams seeming almost dead. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who had previously supported McCarthy through multiple ballots, voted “present,” suggesting McCarthy was bleeding support.
Then Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), another McCarthy backer in the Freedom Caucus, set McCarthy allies scrambling after he told POLITICO that the GOP leader needed to make a deal that day — or step aside and let someone like Scalise have a go. Within an hour, as he went on CNN to repeat those words, Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (Pa.) was spotted off camera, waiting to corner Buck and try to muscle him back in line.
On the chamber floor, McCarthy’s whip team went to work, feverishly trying to win over some of his 20 detractors — and to discern which of them could still be won over with concessions. McCarthy also spent the evening meeting with freshman opponents who don’t have much of a relationship with him.
The chaotic scene underscored the absurdity of the entire situation. Republicans cheered when they got the votes to adjourn for the night, celebrating as if they’d just passed a massive tax cut deal when they were simply leaving once again without a speaker.
Buck at one point floated — quite seriously — that members host a meeting with booze, suggesting it might help move talks along. Upon entering a meeting, incoming NRCC Chair Richard Hudson (N.C.) joked that his water bottle was actually full of vodka.
Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.