Kevin McCarthy is locked in a fight for his political future as the California Republican attempts to win the votes he needs to become speaker of the US House of Representatives in what has now become the longest contest in 164 years.
McCarthy suffered a string of defeats on Thursday as the House took round after round of failed votes. The longer the fight drags on, the more dire it becomes for McCarthy as it risks further defections and a loss of confidence in the GOP leader. House Republicans are scheduled to hold a conference call Friday morning, a source familiar told CNN, and the House is set to reconvene at noon ET.
After the House adjourned on Thursday, McCarthy said that while there had been progress in negotiations, there was no timeline on when he could get to 218 votes. “If this takes a little longer, that’s OK,” he said.
Talks are continuing among Republicans after negotiations aimed at winning over McCarthy opponents picked up steam on Thursday. Key House GOP negotiators said they were moving closer to an agreement that would bring McCarthy closer to 218.
Several members said they were very close to a deal that in many ways is an attempt to rebuild frayed alliances and trust hampered by a harsh Tuesday morning conference meeting.
North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, a key McCarthy ally, said: “The main things we’re talking about are a conservative agenda around spending and the nature of our Republican majority. That’s really the crux of the conversation. And that’s really the contours of it.”
McHenry said process changes and rule overhauls are part of the talks.
“Rules, structure and process dictate outcomes in this place, in a substantial way,” McHenry said. “So you want to make sure all those things are in place.”
He added: “What I’ve seen over the last 36 hours is immense amount of effort to take the emotion out of this and get into the substance of the challenges.”
McHenry said they are not discussing issues like specific committee assignments for holdouts, but talking about their agenda around issues like spending.
In one sign of forward momentum, GOP Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, one of the holdouts, told CNN after viewing a deal in Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer’s office Thursday evening: “This is changes that we want.”
But he also indicated that nothing was final. “This is round one. It’s on paper, which is a good thing,” he said.
Norman said the majority of the deal revolves around rule changes like a 72-hour rule to review bills, term limits, and open amendments. Norman said the deal did not address committee assignments.
CNN was first to report on Wednesday night that in a series of key concessions, McCarthy agreed to propose a rules change that would allow just one member to call for a vote to oust a sitting speaker, according to two sources familiar with the matter. McCarthy had initially proposed a five-member threshold, down from current conference rules that require half of the GOP to call for such a vote.
He also agreed to allow for more members of the Freedom Caucus to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee, which dictates how and whether bills come to the floor, and to vote on a handful of bills that are priorities for the holdouts, including proposing term limits on members and a border security plan.
It still remains to be seen, however, whether additional concessions and attempts at deal making will be enough for McCarthy to secure the votes he needs.
On the concessions he’s made so far, McCarthy said Thursday evening that he’s not concerned about giving just one member the power to call for a vote to oust the speaker. “I’m very fine with that,” the California Republican said. “I’m not afraid. … I won’t be a weaker speaker.”
McCarthy also denied that any members would lose committee assignments and said there have been no negotiations that involved giving subcommittee chairmanships to dissidents.
Patience is wearing thin among lawmakers and moderates have also grown increasingly frustrated over the concessions, which many believe may make it harder for the new GOP majority to effectively govern, though they will likely still swallow them.
McCarthy was defiant earlier in the day on Thursday in the face of the stiff headwinds, saying that he will continue to face opposition until he reaches a deal with his detractors.
“It’s all going to be this way until an agreement comes,” he told CNN. “It’s easier if we’re able to all get an agreement together.”
Asked by CNN the point he would make a realization that the outcome won’t change, McCarthy said: “After I win.”