After 13 Tries, McCarthy Closes In on a Win

After 13 Tries, McCarthy Closes In on a Win

Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Kevin McCarthy is still not speaker of the House, but he is getting closer — and, after some furious dealmaking, he says he’ll have the votes he needs to win the gavel later tonight.

“I’ll have the votes,” he told CNN this afternoon, shortly before the House voted to adjourn until 10 p.m. ET.

The California Republican on Friday broke through the resistance of most of the 20 Republican rebels who had blocked his bid to become speaker of the House over the first 11 rounds of balloting spanning three days this week.

On the 12th round of balloting, McCarthy flipped 13 of his opponents and one member who had been voting “present.” He was able to finally top the vote tally, garnering 213 votes to 211 for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Yet he was still short of the majority needed to secure the speaker’s gavel. On the 13th round, he picked up one more vote, but six Republicans continued to vote for other candidates.

The adjournment until nighttime allows time for negotiations to continue and for two Republicans who support McCarthy but had to be away from the Capitol earlier on Friday, Reps. Wesley Hunt (R-TX) and Ken Buck (R-CO), to return.

McCarthy reportedly promises big defense spending cuts: McCarthy has reportedly agreed to give his right-wing holdouts more power and more leverage over the legislative process, including some concessions on the budget and debt limit that could lead to risk-laden showdowns later this year.

Key elements of his deal with the Republican rebels reportedly include:

* Allowing any single member to offer a “motion to vacate the chair” and call for a vote to oust the speaker, potentially undermining his authority;

* More House Freedom Caucus conservatives on the Rules Committee;

* Floor votes on term limits for members and border security legislation;

* Requiring 72 hours between the release of final bill text and a floor vote;

* Standalone votes for the 12 annual appropriations bills and separate votes on earmarks along with an agreement that any debt ceiling hike would be paired with spending cuts;

* A House push to cap fiscal year 2024 spending at 2022 levels, including a roughly $75 billion cut to national defense spending, which would go from about $857 billion for fiscal 2023 back to about $782 billion, according to Bloomberg;

* Resurrecting a rule allowing members to propose cutting the salaries of specific federal workers or funding for specific programs;  

* A McCarthy-aligned super PAC agreed to not spend money in open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts;

The fiscal concessions were crucial in winning over holdouts, but they could face serious pushback from other lawmakers and could portend a dangerous fight when Congress must raise the nation’s borrowing limit later this year. For two years in a row, defense hawks in Congress have provided billions more for the Pentagon than the Biden administration has requested amid bipartisan concerns about competition with China and Russia’s aggression. “China and Russia are watching. If @GOPLeader agreed to weaken our national defense for his own personal gain, that will be his legacy, and our nation will suffer,” former GOP Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted.

Defense spending changes for next year would need to be approved by the Senate, which Democrats control.

What it means: McCarthy still needs to secure a couple more votes. Even if he can do that tonight, his long fight for the gavel will have real repercussions for the House over the next two years.

Asked how he expects to govern if it took this long to accomplish what should have been the easy part, McCarthy put a positive spin on his long fight. “See, this is the great part – because it took this long, now we learned how to govern, so now we’ll be able to get the job done,” he said.

But the deal he cut will affect how the House functions, how legislation moves to the chamber floor and how crucial budget and debt limit fights will play out. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a leading McCarthy opponent and one of the final six holdouts, said that McCarthy would have to govern with a “straightjacket.”

The next two years are likely to be as rocky as these past four days have been.