McCarthy Reaches for Deal With Right as Speaker Fight Enters Fourth Day
WASHINGTON — Representative Kevin McCarthy of California pressed on Friday for a deal with right-wing holdouts that could deliver him the speakership after days of failed votes on the House floor, bowing to their demands to dilute his own power and give them more influence in a Republican majority so far defined by dysfunction and disarray.
After a humiliating three-day stretch of 11 consecutive defeats in an election that is now the most protracted such contest since 1859, Mr. McCarthy dispatched his emissaries Thursday night to finalize terms with the ultraconservative rebels, including agreeing to conditions he had previously refused to countenance in an effort to sway a critical mass of defectors.
They included allowing a single lawmaker to force a snap vote at any time to oust the speaker, a rule that would effectively codify a standing threat that Mr. McCarthy would be at the mercy of hard-right lawmakers at all times, and could be removed instantly if he crossed them.
F.A.Q.: The Speakership Deadlock in the House
A historic impasse. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California is fighting to become House speaker, but a group of hard-right Republicans is blocking his bid and paralyzing the start of the new Congress. Here’s what to know:
Why is there a standoff? With Republicans holding a narrow margin in the House — 222 seats to Democrats’ 212 — Mr. McCarthy needs support from his party’s right wing to become speaker. But some far-right lawmakers have refused to back him, preventing Mr. McCarthy from getting to 218 votes.
Who are the detractors? The 20 House Republicans who are voting against Mr. McCarthy include some of the chamber’s most hard-right lawmakers. Most denied the results of the 2020 presidential election, and almost all are members of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus.
What do they want? The right-wing rebellion against Mr. McCarthy is rooted not just in personal animosity, but also an ideological drive. The holdouts want to drastically limit the size, scope and reach of the federal government, and overhaul the way Congress works to make it easier to do so.
What can McCarthy do? Mr. McCarthy has made several concessions to try to win over the hard-liners, embracing measures that would weaken the speakership and that he had previously refused to support. But so far the concessions have not been enough to corral the votes he needs.
Is there an alternative to McCarthy? A big factor in Mr. McCarthy’s favor is that no viable candidate has emerged to challenge him, but Republicans could coalesce around someone else. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, is seen by many as the most obvious backup.
How does this end? House precedent dictates that members continue to take successive votes until someone secures the majority to prevail. Until a speaker is chosen, the House is essentially a useless entity. It cannot pass laws or even swear in its members.
That concession and several others, which Mr. McCarthy hoped would win over a large bloc of dissidents, would diminish the speaker’s power considerably and make for an unwieldy environment in the House, where the slim Republican majority and a hard-right faction with an appetite for disarray had already promised to make it difficult to govern.
Also on offer, according to people familiar with the discussions, was a commitment by the Republican leader to allow the far-right faction to pick a third of the party’s members on the powerful Rules Committee, which controls what legislation reaches the floor and in what form, according to a person who has been involved in the talks, who described them on condition of anonymity. Mr. McCarthy, they said, also agreed to open government spending bills to a freewheeling debate in which any lawmaker could force votes on proposed changes, including those designed to scuttle the measure.
But while people close to Mr. McCarthy said they were hopeful the compromises would soon persuade enough holdouts to support him, no votes had moved by nightfall on Thursday, and it was unclear whether he could pick up the converts needed to prevail — or how long that might take. As negotiations continued, the House adjourned for the third straight day with no speaker.
As he left the House floor on Thursday night, Mr. McCarthy said that the negotiations had yielded “a little movement,” and that the painful process was productive for the nascent Republican majority.
“The entire conference is going to have to learn how to work together, so it’s better that we go through this process right now,” Mr. McCarthy said. “If this takes a little longer, and it doesn’t meet your deadline, that’s OK. Because it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Still, the protracted battle for speaker, which has paralyzed the House, making it impossible for members to be sworn in or legislative business to be conducted, has made for an ignominious beginning for the era of Republican rule, spotlighting the party’s divisions and foreshadowing problems to come in performing basic tasks.
Some rank-and-file Republicans were growing frustrated with the ordeal, and said it had sowed distrust inside the party.
“I am a Christian. I believe in forgiving. I can forgive the individual,” said Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska, a mainstream Republican who has been unsparing in his criticism of the hard-right flank. “But when it comes to professional, who do you trust? There’s a lot of trust that’s been burned here.”