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McCarthy Makes Big Gains for Speaker but Still Short After 13 Ballots



Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., stands as he is nominated for a twelfth time as Speaker in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP/Alex Brandon)
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McCarthy made extraordinary gains on the fourth day and the 12th and 13th ballots of a historic standoff that’s testing American democracy and the GOP majority’s ability to govern.

The switched votes from conservative holdouts, including the chairman of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus, put McCarthy closer to seizing the gavel for the new Congress — but not yet able. Republicans voted to adjourn until 7 p.m. PT to try again.

“I believe at that time we’ll have the votes to finish this once and for all,” McCarthy told reporters.

McCarthy Woos Opponents With Concessions

The stunning turnaround came after McCarthy agreed to many of the detractors’ demands — including the reinstatement of a longstanding House rule that would allow any single member to call a vote to oust him from office.

Even if McCarthy is able to secure the votes he needs, he will emerge as a weakened speaker, having given away some powers and constantly under the threat of being booted by his detractors.

But he could also be emboldened as a survivor of one of the more brutal fights for the gavel in U.S. history. Not since the Civil War era has a speaker’s vote dragged through so many rounds of voting.

The showdown that has stymied the new Congress came against the backdrop of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which shook the country when a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying the Republican’s 2020 election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, votes for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, during the twelfth round of voting in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Honoring Officers in Capitol Attack

At a Capitol event on Friday, some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, observed a moment of silence and praised officers who helped protect Congress on that day. And at the White House, Biden handed out medals to officers and others who fought the attackers.

“America is a land of laws, not chaos,” he said.

At the afternoon speaker’s vote, a number of Republicans tiring of the spectacle temporarily walked out when one of McCarthy’s most ardent challengers railed against the GOP leader.

“We do not trust Mr. McCarthy with power,” said Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida, as colleagues streamed out of the chamber in protest of his remarks.

Freedom Caucus Unity Disintegrates

One significant former holdout, Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus who had been a leader of Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election, tweeted after his switched vote for McCarthy: “We’re at a turning point.”

Another Republican holdout, Byron Donalds of Florida, who was repeatedly nominated as an alternative candidate for speaker, switched on Friday, too, voting for the McCarthy.

On the 12th ballot, McCarthy won the most votes for the first time 213. A 13th was swiftly launched, this time, just between McCarthy and the Democratic leader, and he picked up one more detractor, to 214.

With 432 members now voting — including the dramatic return of Democrat David Trone who had been out for surgery — McCarthy still fell short of the majority. Six Republicans cast their ballots for a Republican colleague. McCarthy allies were counting on the return of two absent colleagues to push him even closer to the majority in nighttime voting.

The agreement McCarthy presented to the holdouts from the Freedom Caucus and others centers around rules changes they have been seeking for months. Those changes would shrink the power of the Speaker’s office and give rank-and-file lawmakers more influence in drafting and passing legislation.

At the core of the emerging deal is the reinstatement of a House rule that would allow a single lawmaker to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially calling a vote to oust the speaker. McCarthy had resisted allowing a return to the longstanding rule that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had done away with, because it had been held over the head of past Republican Speaker Boehner. But it appears McCarthy had no other choice.

The longest fight for the gavel started in late 1855 and dragged on for two months, with 133 ballots, during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.

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