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Kevin McCarthy's House Speaker Bid Heads to Fourth Day as Talks Continue -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 05:56

By Natalie Andrews

WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers headed into their fourth day of voting for a new speaker Friday, with Kevin McCarthy and his allies pressing for a deal that would flip enough detractors for him to take the gavel after 11 rounds without a winner.

Republicans involved in the talks huddled late into Thursday, trying to bridge the gulf between Mr. McCarthy's supporters and his 20 opponents. Negotiators indicated they were closing in on an agreement, and Mr. McCarthy expressed optimism and played down the idea that planned concessions would weaken him as speaker.

"I'm not putting any timeline on it, and I just think we've got some progress going on. We've got members talking," the California Republican told reporters.

Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, one of the GOP holdouts, said discussions would keep going "until everybody is satisfied, and not everybody is satisfied."

The effort to elect a speaker has now stretched past the mark set in 1923, the only previous time in the last century in which the speaker wasn't elected on the first ballot. That year, it took nine ballots over three days. The current 11-ballot streak without a winner is the longest since 1860, when a leader was selected after 44 ballots. The record was set in 1856, when it took 133 rounds.

Because Republicans have such a narrow majority over Democrats -- 222 to 212, with one vacancy -- Mr. McCarthy needs almost unanimous support from his party. He can spare no more than four Republican defections if all lawmakers vote for a candidate and Democrats continue to vote for their pick, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

People familiar with the talks indicated lawmakers were coalescing around a deal involving rule changes that affect how Congress operates, including its ability to amend legislation and how and when lawmakers vote on spending bills, as well as how many far-right members, many of whom are in the House Freedom Caucus, get to serve on top committees like Appropriations and Rules.

Mr. Perry said earmarks, or funding for specific projects in members' districts, were being discussed. Many of Mr. McCarthy's detractors were upset that their party voted to allow earmarks back into spending bills after being banned for years.

Mr. Perry and other Republicans had initially asked for any earmark to be approved with a two-thirds vote on the floor. "Let's see what happens between now and tomorrow," he said about how he would vote Friday.

Mr. McCarthy was also willing to drop the threshold to just one GOP lawmaker to make a motion to oust the speaker, a move demanded by holdouts. Previously he had offered to set it to five GOP lawmakers, a move he resisted all last year and that centrist Republicans oppose. In the previous Congress, only party leaders could call for the motion to vacate.

Asked late Thursday if the change would weaken him as speaker, Mr. McCarthy responded that he would "only be a weaker speaker if I was afraid of it."

The House calendar had originally called for lawmakers to have adjourned for the week on Thursday. Instead, lawmakers are meeting on a rare Friday session, still not sworn in, with committees unassembled and unable to legislate.

In three days of voting, little has changed. Most Republicans have consistently backed Mr. McCarthy, but 20 have continued to oppose him. While some have said they are open to negotiations, others are more dug-in on their opposition.

"I'm told we've got half," of the 20, said Rep. Don Bacon (R., Neb.), saying that allows them to "put a spotlight on the other half" that won't come on board. Republican lawmakers backing Mr. McCarthy have criticized detractors, saying they are holding up efforts to restart constituent services and perform the work they campaigned on to win the majority.

All Democrats have consistently supported their pick, Mr. Jeffries, meaning that he has received 212 votes, the most votes of any candidate. However, to win the speakership a lawmaker must receive the majority of all those present and voting for a named candidate. That number, if all lawmakers vote, is 218.

In Thursday's votes, GOP holdouts again backed Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, with other votes scattered between Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and former President Donald Trump, who both back Mr. McCarthy. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R., Ind.) continued to vote present, as she had a day earlier, saying it was clear no candidate had enough votes to win.

The number needed to win is expected to change on Friday, with some lawmakers leaving for previous commitments. Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who was backing Mr. McCarthy, had to return home for a planned nonemergency medical procedure, his aide said.

Write to Natalie Andrews at natalie.andrews@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 05:56 ET (10:56 GMT)

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