McCarthy allies, opponents signal optimism to breaking House Speaker deadlock

After two long days of clashes and deadlock, Republicans on Wednesday said there were some signs of progress in the grueling process to seat the Speaker to lead their new majority in the new Congress.

In six votes over two days, a group of roughly 20 conservative firebrands has blocked the bid by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to lead the lower chamber into a crucial 2024 presidential election.

Yet key members of the McCarthy resistance indicated Wednesday afternoon that the marathon talks aimed at reaching some agreement were finally bearing fruit.

Those voices emphasized that they’re not ready to support McCarthy just yet. But the signs of forward movement mark a sharp shift from the entrenched stalemate between the sides that had practically defined the talks over the last several weeks.

“We’re having ongoing conversations; they’ve actually been more productive in the last two hours than they’ve been in a long time,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), one of McCarthy’s detractors, told reporters at the Capitol between the fifth and sixth ballots.

“There’s genuine, good faith, ‘Hey let’s get this done’ conversations,” Roy added.

The question will be what McCarthy needs to give up to win over his opponents, and whether anything can win over them all.

With Republicans clinging to a slight majority — they have 222 seats, to the Democrats’ 212 — McCarthy can afford to lose only four Republicans and still win the gavel. In the first six ballots, he’s been far off that mark, losing 19 conservatives in the first two votes, and 20 in the remaining four.

And in that camp of 20 Republicans, some are seen as more willing to negotiate than others.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — who ran against McCarthy for the Speaker nomination — suggested there’s progress, but it’s moving away from McCarthy, not toward him.

“I’m feeling progress is going to go our way,” he said.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) is another one of those lawmakers. He acknowledges that McCarthy, the Republicans’ leading fundraiser, has “worked hard” for the party. But he’s been highly critical of McCarthy’s legislative history, particularly when it comes to government spending. Norman simply doesn’t trust McCarthy to hold the conservative line in cut-throat fights with President Biden over federal funding.

“It’s not about any committee seats,” Norman said. “I want to get this country on a financial solvency path.”

The House adjourned after the sixth failed ballot on Wednesday until 8 p.m., with members breaking to meet for discussion about potential resolutions to the impasse, but it is unclear whether 3 1/2 hours of negotiations will lead to any agreement before the House gavels back in.

“I suppose it’s not too late for a Christmas miracle, but I’d be pretty surprised if we get a breakthrough today. These are sensitive negotiations and they’re gonna take some time,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), chair of the Main Street Caucus and a McCarthy supporter.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), another member who voted against McCarthy on all six ballots, agreed with Roy’s assessment of progress.

“There is a dynamic environment and conversations are going on with different people. And I think it’s producing interesting ideas,” Bishop said, declining to get into specifics “for fear that that might impair them.”

McCarthy’s supporters also weighed in with a similar message, suggesting that the logjam was beginning to break.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a McCarthy critic-turned-supporter, said she’s seen clear “signs of progress.”

“I don’t want to say anything; I’d rather see it happen. But there are a lot of conversations happening, which is part of this,” Greene said. “We need more time to have those conversations.”

In the final two ballots, a 21st Republican — Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) — had voted “present.” She later explained that the reason was to entice GOP leaders to recess the House to allow Republicans to gather behind closed doors, and not “waste more time” on the House floor.

Democrats, meanwhile, have remained united throughout the process. All 212 members of the party have voted for their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), on all six ballots. And none has indicated that they’re ready to help Republicans break their impasse.

“This is on them,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the incoming chair of the Democratic Caucus, said shortly before Wednesday’s votes.

Al Weaver and Mychael Schnell contributed.

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