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Kevin McCarthy Fails on 14th Ballot for House Speaker

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 23:28

By Natalie Andrews and Eliza Collins

WASHINGTON -- Republican Kevin McCarthy failed to win his election as House speaker on his 14th attempt to secure the necessary votes and days of grueling negotiations that turned detractors in his favor for the chamber's top job.

Despite significant concessions in order to bring on board his opponents, including giving them more power to shape spending bills, Mr. McCarthy fell one vote short in a dramatic moment on the House floor that almost came to blows.

Still, his concessions could lead to gridlock in the relationship between the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-run Senate, complicating proceedings on his own House floor. In addition, they would make it easier to topple him from the post if members are unhappy.

The House hasn't had this many failed votes to decide on a speaker since before the Civil War, when it took 44 attempts. This year's vote was the first time in 100 years that a speaker didn't win on the first ballot. Mr. McCarthy's inability to win the speakership ballots has frozen all House business as members have had to sit and listen as the clerk -- who is in charge of the House without a speaker -- ticks through an alphabetical roll call of lawmakers asking for their votes. Because the speaker's contest is the first vote members take, they still haven't been sworn in, meaning they can't vote or serve on committees. There are also no official House rules.

Mr. McCarthy's concessions, according to people familiar with the matter, hashed out many of the policy fights that lawmakers expect to have this year over the debt ceiling and spending. They include a commitment to voting on specific bills; tying spending cuts to a debt-ceiling increase; and a rules change that makes it easier to oust him as leader. He also agreed to add more members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to key committees.

Rep. French Hill (R., Ark.), an ally of Mr. McCarthy who has been involved in the negotiations, said lawmakers agreed to have spending cuts tied to any legislation regarding the debt ceiling, which Congress might need to raise later this year to avoid a default on the nation's debt. Democrats are adamant that they won't allow Republicans to pressure them into using the debt limit to cut federal programs.

"There will be no clean increase in the debt ceiling," said Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a member who changed his vote in favor of Mr. McCarthy.

Part of the agreement calls for the House to pass a resolution outlining how it would balance the federal budget within a decade, said people familiar with the matter. That could involve attempts to raise the eligibility age for such programs as Social Security and Medicare, as well as widespread cuts across other programs. Republicans aren't likely to back tax increases. In 2032, under current law, federal revenue is expected to be $6.7 trillion, and federal spending is expected to be $8.9 trillion, so balancing the budget with spending cuts alone would require eliminating more than $1 for every $4 the government is projected to spend.

Other people familiar with the matter said the deal would make it easier to amend legislation and how and when lawmakers vote on spending bills.

Negotiators also agreed to pass a bill that averts a government shutdown if Congress hasn't passed appropriations bills by the funding deadline through the enactment of a continuing resolution that cuts spending. That legislation would need to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, which is unlikely. Most Republicans are opposed to funding the government using another omnibus spending bill that Congress has passed over the past few years.

Mr. Perry has also said limiting earmarks, or funding for specific projects in member's districts, was 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.

The 15 GOP votes that switched in Mr. McCarthy's favor Friday afternoon demonstrated his political momentum after days of a stalemate.

Fourteen lawmakers changed from voting against Mr. McCarthy or voting "present" in the 12th round to back him. Then, in the 13th round, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland became the 15th Republican to change his vote in favor of Mr. McCarthy. Still, there were six Republicans who continued to vote against Mr. McCarthy.

At least two Republicans said they couldn't be convinced. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, one of the holdouts, said on Twitter that he had no intention of changing his vote. Rep. Bob Good of Virginia published an essay in the New York Times Friday night titled 'I'm One of the Last Holdouts Against Kevin McCarthy -- and I Won't Back Down.'

If all 434 House members are present and voting, Mr. McCarthy must win 218 votes, so he can lose no more than four members. There are 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats with one vacancy in the House.

Mr. McCarthy's allies expressed optimism that the process could be finished Friday night.

"We're going to elect a speaker," Rep. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) said. "He will be sworn in. He will swear us in, and we will pass a rules package, and hope that people can catch flights home tomorrow."

As lawmakers began to grow weary and worry that negotiators were giving too much to the far-right detractors, Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, on a Friday morning call with House Republicans emphasized that the deal wasn't going to hurt moderate Republicans or take away chairmanships from those who have supported Mr. McCarthy, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Friday marked the first time that Mr. McCarthy received more votes than the Democratic nominee, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, in the 12th series. Republicans cheered each lawmaker who changed a vote with a standing ovation.

Rep. David Trone, a Democrat from Maryland, hurried back to the Capitol to make the 13th vote after having surgery that morning and missing the 12th series. When Mr. Trone voted in the 13th round, still in his slippers and hospital socks, he was greeted with cheers from Democrats.

Two supporters of Mr. McCarthy were out Friday: Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado and Wesley Hunt of Texas. Mr. Buck had to return home for a planned nonemergency medical procedure, his aide said. Mr. Hunt went home because his son was born this week. A person familiar with their travel plans said both would be back by the next series of votes Friday night.

--Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Natalie Andrews at natalie.andrews@wsj.com and Eliza Collins at eliza.collins@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 23:28 ET (04:28 GMT)

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