- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Stalled by infighting over who should become speaker, the new House Republican majority on Wednesday grew increasingly frustrated with a revolt by a faction of conservatives that has paralyzed Congress and tarnished the party’s image.

For the second day in a row, 20 conservatives voted in unison to block Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California from winning the speaker’s gavel. That stopped the House from organizing and preventing the 434 lawmakers elected in November from taking the oath of office and officially starting their two-year terms.

Mr. McCarthy refused to bow out and said he was making progress in his daunting quest for the speakership. After meeting with some of the key holdouts, he told reporters that more votes Wednesday evening would not make any difference. “I think a vote in the future will,” he said.

A short time later, the chamber adjourned until noon Thursday, when the votes for speaker are expected to resume.

One of the Republican holdouts who met with Mr. McCarthy, Rep.-elect Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, called the meeting productive.

The House adjourned for about three hours Wednesday afternoon before briefing reconvening in the evening. The break gave Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans the time to work out an agreement to end the gridlock, and they appeared to make slight progress.

There were signs that Mr. McCarthy could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

The conservative Club for Growth announced late Wednesday that it had reached a deal with a McCarthy-aligned super PAC not to try to oust conservatives in House Republican primary races.

“This agreement on super PACs fulfills a major concern we have pressed for,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said. “We understand that Leader McCarthy and Members are working on a rules agreement that will meet the principles we have set out previously. Assuming these principles are met, Club for Growth will support Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.”

Club for Growth previously urged a “no” vote on McCarthy.

Mr. McCarthy, 57, has the support of the overwhelming majority of the Republican conference, but lawmakers who back him are growing wary of the nearly unprecedented stalemate and are concerned that the holdouts, who have increased in number from 19 to 20, may never give Mr. McCarthy the votes he needs to claim the speaker’s gavel.

Mr. McCarthy must secure the support of at least sixteen of the holdouts to get a majority on the House floor required to elect a speaker. Mr. McCarthy had hoped some of the holdouts would give up their opposition by Wednesday. Instead, they appear more determined to block him. 

Rep.-elect Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican and McCarthy backer, said she did not believe Mr. McCarthy should step aside. She wants House Republicans to hold a closed-door meeting on the matter, which, she said, “could have some positive outcomes in terms of other opportunities and alternatives.”

Mr. McCarthy will continue to have her support if he truly believes he can eventually win enough votes.

“But the fact of the matter is there comes a time when we want to govern,” Mrs. Wagner said. “I was sent here to govern, to get things done. And this is the complete opposite of that.”

Other lawmakers are pressuring Mr. McCarthy to quickly cut a deal with the holdouts to end the stalemate and start the legislative session.

“He needs to either make a deal to bring the 19 or 20 over, or he needs to step aside to give somebody the chance to do that,” Rep.-elect Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who has voted for Mr. McCarthy, said on CNN.

The group of holdouts is seeking changes to House rules that would weaken the speaker’s position and empower their faction to advance their agenda, particularly on reining in government spending.

One of the changes they seek would reinstate a rule allowing a single lawmaker to call up a vote to eject a speaker.

They want promises that the Republican agenda will include term limits for House lawmakers, a balanced budget measure, a bill to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and legislation advancing their favored strategy to secure the southern border. The lawmakers want a rule to ensure a minimum of 72 hours is provided to review legislation ahead of a vote, and they want an end to rushed consideration of massive government spending bills that have contributed to inflation and a soaring debt and deficit.

“I want the leadership and the tools to go fight against the swamp and what they are doing to the American people,” said Rep.-elect Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and one of the 20 holdouts.

A small group of lawmakers who have voted against Mr. McCarthy has pledged to never change their vote.

Rep.-elect  Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is perhaps the most vocal McCarthy critic in the conference, met with him. When he spoke with reporters on his way out, he said Mr. McCarthy is inappropriately “squatting” in the speaker’s office on the second floor of the Capitol.

“I’m willing to vote all night, all week, all month and never for that person,” Mr. Gaetz said. He called Mr. McCarthy “a desperate guy” who is losing support.

Yet Mr. McCarthy’s backing from the rank and file has mostly held steady. He lost the backing of one lawmaker who is now voting “present.” A second Republican, Rep.-elect Byron Donalds of Florida, began voting with the original 19 holdouts on Tuesday and was nominated by the group as their choice for speaker on Wednesday.

Many Republican lawmakers agree that Mr. McCarthy shouldn’t give in completely to the rebel faction.

A group of Republicans on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee staged a press conference Wednesday to show their support for Mr. McCarthy and to slam the holdouts for preventing their committee from constituting and getting to work helping veterans.

They warned that the Republican conference is willing to negotiate with the holdouts — but not without limits.

“We will compromise, but we will not capitulate,” Rep.-elect Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin said. “There are 222 Republicans in our conference now, so if 20 people are able to drive the train however they want to, 202 of us may as well go home. That means those 20 people are the majority, and that is capitulation.”

So far, no one outside the 20 holdouts is publicly naming McCarthy alternatives. But incoming Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, is considered by many Republican lawmakers to be the next in line and the one most likely to win enough votes if Mr. McCarthy gives up.

Mr. Scalise has been trying to help Mr. McCarthy negotiate with the holdouts, as has Rep.-elect Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the favored alternatives whom McCarthy opponents nominated Tuesday in two rounds of voting.

Lawmakers are hoping that the gridlock will start to break by Thursday.

“If he starts to lose more support, then that is not helpful,” said Rep.-elect and McCarthy ally Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican. “It’s just a battle of wills between the 20 versus the majority of our party.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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