Kevin McCarthy came up short once again on Thursday as he lost the ninth House vote to elect a new House speaker – the same number of voting rounds needed in 1923, which is the last time multiple ballots took place for the speakership.
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.
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.”
Talks have continued among Republicans as the GOP majority hopes to find a path forward.
“I think things are moving in the right direction,” Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota said as he left the McCarthy meeting. “Nothing’s going to come together quickly, but I think we’re clearly making progress.”
But Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, who has supported McCarthy through six ballots, warned of the potential for additional defections on Thursday.
Asked by CNN if he would be with McCarthy on the seventh ballot, Buck said: “If there’s a deal and you know, 10 of the 20 move, I think that people stay with him. If there’s no deal and we have another vote of 20, I think people are going to start (defecting).” Buck added: “Including me.”
“There is a point in time that Kevin is going to lose credibility because he can’t make this deal,” Buck said.
There are some indications that negotiations have made some headway as McCarthy and his allies attempt to chip away at opposition from a bloc of conservatives.
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 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 said Wednesday evening that there was no deal yet to end the stalemate, but that there has been progress. “I think it’s probably best that people work through some more,” McCarthy said after the House had adjourned.
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.
McCarthy also met separately Wednesday with the freshmen members-elect who voted against him, sources told CNN.
During the meeting, McCarthy reiterated some of the things he has already promised and went into greater detail about those concessions.
McCathy’s direct outreach to the freshmen-elect offers another window into his strategy for winning over the holdouts.
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 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.