U.S. House to begin seventh speaker vote as GOP leader McCarthy seeks deal with far-right holdouts

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives was poised Thursday to hold its seventh vote this week to elect a new speaker, as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sought to revive his embattled bid for the speaker’s gavel by agreeing to demands from key conservative holdouts.

“I think everyone in the conversation wants to find a solution,” McCarthy said on his way into the House chamber. “What we’re doing is we’re having really good progress in conversation. I think everybody in the conversation wants to find a solution.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave up the gavel at noon on Tuesday, after Republicans took control of the chamber in November’s elections. The absence of a speaker has left the House in disarray, largely due to the fact that rank-and-file members can’t be sworn into office until a speaker is elected and cannot set up their local or Washington offices. This leaves all 434 members of the House technically still members-elect, not official voting representatives. 

Ahead of Thursday’s votes, Democratic Party leaders berated Republicans for the party’s dysfunction, and emphasized the harm that going days without a House speaker was inflicting on the legislative branch and the nation.

“We cannot organize our district offices, get our new members doing that political work of our constituent services, helping serve the people who sent us here on their behalf,” incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., told reporters in the Capitol Thursday morning. “Kevin McCarthy’s ego in his pursuit of the speakership at all costs is drowning out the voices and the needs of the American people.”

Democrats also emphasized that the absence of a speaker was threatening U.S. national security by keeping members of Congress from accessing classified intelligence that is only available to lawmakers after they have taken the oath of office, which none of them can take without a speaker.

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“At the end of the day, all we are asking Republicans to do is to figure out a way for themselves to organize so the Congress can get together and do the business of the American people,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said at a press conference with Clark.

She accused McCarthy of being “held hostage to his own ambitions.”

“This is about your responsibility to organize government. It is fundamental to who we are as members of Congress,” Clark said.

McCarthy, meanwhile, negotiated late into the night Wednesday with both allies and his opponents to try to strike a deal that would get him the gavel, following six failed votes over Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I think we’re making progress,” McCarthy said on his way into the Capitol Thursday morning, according to NBC News. “I think people are talking and that’s a good sign. I think that’s very good. Look, we’re all working together, to find a solution.”

McCarthy’s latest concessions paved the way for a new round of votes that are expected to begin Thursday at 12 p.m. ET.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reacts on the floor of the House Chamber with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as Democrats force the House to vote on whether to continue a late evening session against McCarthy’s wishes, while the competition for Speaker of the House continues, on the second day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2023 

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

It was unclear, however, whether the promises made would translate into any shifts in the vote count on Thursday.

The first major concession McCarthy agreed to Wednesday was a change to the rules to allow any member of the party to call for a vote on whether to replace the House speaker at any time, a far lower threshold than the current bar, according to NBC News.

“Any one, any where, any time,” is how Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of McCarthy’s staunchest opponents, described the new rule to NBC late Wednesday night.

Gaetz also said McCarthy had agreed to name members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to positions on key committees, including the powerful House Rules Committee, which controls which bills make it to the floor for a vote, and which bills languish indefinitely in committees.

This change satisfied another demand from the far right, that its bloc of members be given more power to push their preferred bills to the House floor.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) passionately addresses other conservative Republican members of the House in the middle of the House Chamber after a fourth round of voting still failed to elect U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as new Speaker of the House on the second day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2023. 

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

McCarthy’s allies did not deny that he had agreed to new concessions, NBC reported, but they refused to confirm specifics.

“The question is movement and positive movement,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, told NBC News and other reporters camped outside the meeting rooms late Wednesday night. “We’ve had an afternoon turned evening of very positive discussions and there seems to be goodwill around Republicans and McCarthy that is shaping up in a very nice way.”

The limited progress came after McCarthy had failed in six votes over two days to reach the minimum number needed to become speaker, in this case 218 votes, if all 434 incoming House members cast ballots.

Not only had McCarthy failed to hit 218, but over the course of 48 hours, McCarthy’s support had actually shrunk from 203 to 201, after two members of his caucus, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz, changed their votes.

Democrats, meanwhile, remained in lockstep throughout the votes, casting all 212 of their ballots unanimously every time for Jeffries.

Incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) and incoming Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2022. 

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.