House adjourned until 10 p.m. to try again on 14th ballot
Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy flipped 15 colleagues to support him in dramatic votes for House Speaker on Friday, making extraordinary gains on the fourth day and the 12th and 13th ballots of a gruelling standoff that was testing American democracy and the party'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. Republicans voted to adjourn until 10 p.m. to try again.
"I believe at that time we'll have the votes to finish this once and for all," McCarthy told reporters.
The stunning turnaround came after McCarthy agreed to many demands from his detractors — 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 threat of being booted.
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 2020 election victory of Democrat Joe Biden.
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.
'We do not trust Mr. McCarthy with power'
At the afternoon Speaker's vote, a number of Republicans, evidently 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.
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McCarthy told lawmakers there were no plans to adjourn for the weekend, one Republican said, but it might be difficult to keep them in town.
So far Republicans have been unable to settle on a new Speaker — normally an easy, joyous task for a party that has just won majority control. But not this time: About 200 Republicans have been stymied by 20 far-right colleagues who said McCarthy is not conservative enough.
The agreement McCarthy presented to the holdouts centres around rules changes they have been seeking for months that would shrink the power of the Speaker's office and give rank-and-file lawmakers more influence in drafting and passing legislation.
'Trust but verify'
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 John Boehner, chasing him to early retirement.
The chairman of the chamber's Freedom Caucus, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who had been a leader in Trump's efforts to challenge his presidential election loss to Biden, appeared receptive to the proposed package, tweeting an adage from Ronald Reagan, "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, to mandate 72 hours for bills to be posted before votes and to promise to try for a constitutional amendment that would impose federal term limits for members of the House and Senate.
Conservative holdout Ralph Norman of South Carolina said: "This is round one."
It could be the makings of a deal to end a standoff that has left the House unable to fully function. Without a Speaker, the chamber is unable to swear in members and almost no other business can happen.
A memo sent out by the House's chief administrative officer Thursday evening said that committees "shall only carry-out core Constitutional responsibilities." Payroll cannot be processed if the House isn't functioning by Jan. 13.
It was the first time since 1923 that a nominee for Speaker had not won the gavel on the first vote. Thursday's tally was dismal: McCarthy lost seventh, eighth and then historic ninth, 10th and 11th rounds of voting, surpassing the number from 100 years ago.
The California Republican exited the chamber and quipped about the moment: "Apparently, I like to make history."
Feelings of boredom, desperation and annoyance seemed increasingly evident, and Democrats said it was time to get serious.
"This sacred House of Representatives needs a leader," said Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party's leader, Hakeem Jeffries, as Speaker.
What started as a political novelty has devolved into a bitter Republican Party feud and a deepening potential crisis.
Pressure has grown for McCarthy to somehow find the votes he needs or step aside. The incoming Republican chairmen of the House's Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees all said national security was at risk.
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Amid speculation that moderate Republicans and Democrats will team up to elect a U.S. House Speaker, Jeet Heer, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, says that it’s not the job of Democrats to save the GOP. He says that 'helping Republicans pick a House Speaker makes sense only if it intensifies the right-wing civil war.'
Republican Party holdouts repeatedly put forward the name of Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, ensuring continuation of the stalemate that increasingly carried undercurrents of race and politics. They also put forward Republican Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, splitting the protest vote.
Donalds, who is Black, is seen as an emerging party leader and a GOP counterpoint to the Democratic leader, Jeffries, who is the first Black leader of a major political party in the U.S. Congress and on track himself to become Speaker some day.
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House, much the way that some past Republican Speakers, including Boehner, had trouble leading a rebellious right flank. The result: government shutdowns, standoffs and Boehner's early retirement.
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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