Kevin McCarthy is offering a deal to end the stalemate in the House Speakers’ fight ahead of the 12th vote on Friday, the 2nd anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack
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WASHINGTON — The contours of a deal that could put Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives are beginning to emerge after three grueling days and 11 failed votes in a political spectacle not seen in a century, reflecting the fragility of American democracy.
The House of Representatives will be back at it on Friday, and Republicans are trying to elect their new representative — this time against the backdrop of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The attack was an unimaginable mess that shook the country, as a mob of President Donald Trump supporters tried to block Congress from confirming his election defeat.
McCarthy made no promises of a final vote that would secure him the Speaker’s gavel, but glimmers of a deal have surfaced with at least some of the far-right holdouts who have denied him support.
“We’ve made some progress,” McCarthy said late Thursday, brushing off questions about the lengthy, messy process. “That’s not how you start, that’s how you end.”
The agreement McCarthy presented to the conservative Freedom Caucus holdouts and others revolves around rule changes they have been seeking for months. These changes would reduce the power of the Speaker’s Office and give ordinary legislators more leverage in drafting and passing legislation.
Even if McCarthy is able to secure the votes he needs, he will emerge as a weakened speaker who has relinquished some powers and constantly puts him in danger of being voted out by his opponents. But he might also be encouraged as a survivor of one of the more brutal battles for the Hammer in US history.
At the heart of the looming deal is the reintroduction of a house rule that would allow a single lawmaker to table a motion to “evict the chairman,” essentially calling for a vote to oust the speaker. McCarthy had refused to allow it because it had been held over the head of former Republican Speaker John Boehner and hounded into early retirement.
The chair of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus, Pennsylvania-based Scott Perry, who had played a leading role in Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 presidential election, appeared open-minded about the proposed package, tweeting Ronald Reagan’s adage: “Trust, but verify.” .
Other wins for the holdouts include provisions in the proposed deal to expand the number of seats available on the House Rules Committee, mandate 72 hours for bills to be released before votes, and promise to attempt a constitutional amendment imposing federal limits on the Number of terms a person could serve in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Lest hopes get ahead of reality, Conservative advocate Ralph Norman of South Carolina said, “This is the first round.”
It could be the makings of a deal to end a standoff that has left the house in less than full working order. Members have not been sworn in and almost no other business can happen. A memo sent Thursday night by the House Chief Administrative Officer said committees “shall perform only core constitutional functions.” Payroll cannot be processed if the house is not working by January 13th.
After a long week of failed voting, Thursday’s record was bleak: McCarthy lost the seventh, eighth, and then the historic ninth, tenth and eleventh rounds of voting, surpassing the tally of 100 years ago in the last protracted struggle to choose a speaker.
The California Republican exited the chamber and quipped of the moment, “Apparently I like making history.”
Feelings of boredom, desperation, and irritation seemed to become more and more evident.
One McCarthy critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, voted for Trump – a symbolic but clear sign of the broad disagreements over the Republican Party’s future. He then went further and took the day from protest to absurdity by formally nominating the former president as speaker of the House of Representatives for the 11th ballot. Trump got a vote from Gaetz and caused laughter.
Democrats said it was time to get serious. “This holy House of Representatives needs a leader,” said Democrat Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party’s leader Hakeem Jeffries for speaker.
What began as a political novelty, when for the first time since 1923 a candidate did not win the gavel on the first vote, has turned into a bitter Republican Party feud and a potential deepening of the crisis.
New York Democratic leader Jeffries won the most votes in each ballot, but also narrowly managed to get a majority. McCarthy finished second and gained no ground.
The pressure on McCarthy has grown with each passing day to somehow find the voices he needs or step aside. The new Republican chairs of the House foreign affairs, armed forces and intelligence committees all said national security was at risk.
“The Biden administration is uncontrolled and there is no oversight of the White House,” Republicans Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner wrote in a joint statement.
But McCarthy’s right-wing critics, led by the Freedom Caucus and allied with Trump, seemed emboldened — despite the former President’s public backing of McCarthy.
Republican officials repeatedly mentioned the name of Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, ensuring the continuation of the standoff, which brought with it growing undercurrents of race and politics. They also introduced Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern and shared the protest vote.
Donalds, who is black, is viewed as a rising party leader and GOP counterpoint to Democratic leader Jeffries, who is the first black leader of a major political party in the US Congress and is on track to one day become speaker himself.
The ballots kept coming back nearly the same result, 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to endorse McCarthy, leaving him well short of the 218 normally needed to win the hammer.
Indeed, McCarthy saw his support dwindle to 201 when a fellow Republican simply voted “present,” and later to 200. With a GOP majority of just 222 seats, he had no votes to spare.
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to troubles ahead for Republicans, who now control the House, much like some previous Republican speakers, including Boehner, have had trouble leading a rebellious right flank. The result: government closures, standoffs and Boehner’s early retirement.
The longest battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months during the pre-Civil War slavery debates, with 133 ballots.
AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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