Kevin McCarthy has once again made history by losing his fifth, sixth and seventh consecutive votes for speaker of the House.
The latest defeats occurred Thursday afternoon after Mr McCarthy offered hardline Republicans even more concessions in an effort to secure the speaker’s gavel. Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida switched up his vote to nominate former President Donald Trump as speaker.
On Wednesday, Republican rebels seeking to block Mr McCarthy from becoming speaker rallied behind Rep Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican who has only been in the House of Representatives since 2021. Twenty members backed Mr Donalds in a vote.
There was no sign of any effect whatsoever from the all-caps endorsement of Mr McCarthy that Mr Trump issued on Truth Social hours before the Wednesday votes began.
The votes continued throughout the day Wednesday, with little sign of meaningful movement in any direction. The only significant change was the movement of rebel votes to Mr Donalds from Jim Jordan, who a day earlier declined to put himself forward as a compromise candidate and voted himself for Mr McCarthy.
The California Republican and previous leader of the GOP caucus remained adamant heading into Wednesday’s vote that he would emerge as speaker when the process concluded. But on Wednesday, even Republicans were beginning to acknowledge the scope of the disarray that their party finds itself in, calling the process “messy” as it transpired.
“It’s a feature, not a bug,” Rep Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin argued in his speech nominating his ally, Mr McCarthy, for the fourth time.
Democrats, meanwhile, remained unified behind Hakeem Jeffries. The New York congressman came out ahead thanks to the defections of rebel GOP members from Mr McCarthy’s total. Were the other totals to remain unchanged, he would only actually need to pick up five votes himself to become speaker.
Mr Jeffries’s caucus has thus far resisted any attempts by Mr McCarthy’s team to have members vote “present”, which would lower the threshhold needed for his victory. They’ve also yet to come out formally behind any centrist Republican candidate who could win their support over Mr McCarthy, a move discussed by Rep Fred Upton and others on Tuesday as a possible means of freezing out conservatives.
On Thursday, it looked like Mr McCarthy’s desperation was mounting. After a seventh failed vote, reporting indicated that Mr McCarthy wanted to adjourn, though would likely be unsuccessful. And overnight, news reports revealed that he had offered a new series of concessions to the Freedom Caucus, including seats on the Rules Committee and lowering the threshold for a motion to vacate the chair to just one member.
But those conservatives may be more resistant than ever before to ending their campaign to block Mr McCarthy from becoming speaker. Scott Perry, chair of the Freedom Caucus, declared Thursday morning that there was no deal and that trust had been broken between GOP leadership and its far-right wing.
One Republican congresswoman-elect, Anna Paulina Luna, told The Independent that several members of the so-called “Never Kevin” group had left Tuesday’s GOP caucus meeting feeling “disrespected” and likely in the camp of being unmovable on the issue.
Allies of Mr McCarthy were biting in their criticism of the rebels, even as those same rebels urged them to stop the attacks.
“It’s about egos, not about policy,” Rep Nancy Mace told The Independent. “They were asked point blank yesterday, what more do they want? They didn’t have an answer.”
Mike Garcia, another Republican ally of Mr McCarthy, added of the holdouts: “I think they are marginalising themselves.”
The votes this week were broken up by brief periods in which members dissolved into conversations on the floor. CSPAN cameras captured conservatives having animated conversations with their Republican colleagues, though it wasn’t clear whether either side was making much progress in convincing holdout members.
The holdouts, for their part, predicted even further defections from Mr McCarthy’s camp and offered little hope for him becoming speaker.
“I think you're going to continue to see attrition from Kevin McCarthy, from the votes that he's receiving. I think you may see significant attrition in the vote tonight, if we come back again and vote again at eight o'clock tonight,” Congressman Bob Good told The Independent.
He went on to predict: “And so they are ready. Increasingly ready, I believe to look at other candidates as that reality sets in.”