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Semafor LogoBenjy Sarlin
Benjy Sarlin
politics

Republican holdouts rejected Kevin McCarthy again (and again and again) and there’s no end in sight

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Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol in December 2022.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Republicans rejected Kevin McCarthy as speaker for a fourth, fifth, and sixth time on Wednesday, ramping up recriminations within the party and leaving the House unable to conduct even basic operations.

This time the 20 holdouts rallied behind Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. as their nominee, a popular member who broke with McCarthy to join them on the third ballot the day before. The only significant movement was from Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., who voted “present” on the fourth ballot after previously supporting McCarthy. The fifth ballot had the same results.

“It doesn’t matter — I still have the most votes,” McCarthy told reporters before the votes, according to CNN.

That was true among Republicans, but left McCarthy still well short of the majority of the House needed to become speaker.

The conservative rebels were unmoved by an appeal from former president Donald Trump, who reiterated his endorsement of McCarthy just hours earlier after seemingly hedging the night before. “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

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“The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that sir, you do not have the votes and it's time to withdraw," Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. said in a floor speech ahead of the fifth ballot.

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The path forward is uncertain now, with everything from a deal with hardline conservatives or even Democrats to make McCarthy — or someone else — speaker on the table. There’s also no obvious deadline, like a looming government shutdown, or debt ceiling crisis, or emergency must-pass bill, to force the two sides to come together quickly.

There were only the barest hints of movement on potential outcomes on Wednesday ahead of the vote.

Moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. said Republicans were reaching out to Democrats to gauge whether they might consider a deal that would provide McCarthy the votes to become speaker.

Democrats have so far been resistant to the idea, especially if it keeps McCarthy in charge versus a more moderate alternative. But at least one influential member, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio said she was open to talks around McCarthy. McCarthy backers have used the specter of Democrats becoming involved in the speaker’s race, and the demands it might require to win them over, to try and scare Republican holdouts into falling in line.

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So far, Democrats have mostly tried to keep their hands clean of the Republicans’ mess. President Biden weighed in for the first time on Wednesday to say it was “a little embarrassing” for Republicans, but also “not my problem.”

Meanwhile, there was little sign of movement in talks between Republicans on a package of rules, committee assignments, and additional demands that might break the impasse within their caucus.

“We’ve had a conversation for two months to try to advance the ball and we have had success in doing that — but we’re not there, we’re not at the place where we need to be to guarantee that we’re going to be able to stand up in the face of the swamp,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas said in a floor speech to nominate Donalds.

If McCarthy can't reach a deal, pressure is likely to mount for an alternative option. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. told Politico on Wednesday that he would consider abandoning his support for McCarthy and calling on Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. to step in as a consensus choice if the situation did not change soon.

The House is currently adjourned until 8 p.m. tonight.

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