Endgame: Three ways House speaker chaos could finally be resolved

Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives to the House chamber at the beginning of an evening session after six failed votes to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon/AP

Endgame: Three ways House speaker chaos could finally be resolved

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The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon on Thursday to resume its leadership elections, entering the third day of roll call votes with lawmakers bracing for presumably another hourslong meeting that could yield no results.

In order to win the speakership, a nominee must garner a majority of present House members — in this case, 218 lawmakers if every member casts a vote. Republicans currently hold the House majority with 222 seats, meaning a GOP nominee can’t afford to lose more than four members.

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who served as the House minority leader in the previous Congress, has long positioned himself as the apparent heir to take the speaker’s gavel, releasing his planned agenda during the midterm elections last year and moving his belongings into the speaker’s office earlier this week before the House even met to vote.

However, McCarthy must grapple with a growing opposition within his party as he faces at least 20 Republican defectors who have opposed his speakership bid. Now the House remains at a standstill as lawmakers undergo a seventh round of votes to elect their next speaker.

Here are three ways lawmakers could resolve the historic stalemate and fill the top leadership position:

McCarthy strikes deal with GOP holdouts and wins speakership

In what would be considered the most ideal outcome for McCarthy, the California Republican is vying to win over enough Republican holdouts to push him over the 218-vote threshold to be elected as House speaker.

After failing to make headway following three rounds of roll call votes on Wednesday, McCarthy met with some of his most stubborn opponents after the House adjourned and agreed to a new bout of concessions in a last-ditch effort to win their support.

As part of his latest concessions, McCarthy agreed to a proposal to add more Freedom Caucus members to the House Rules Committee, as well as further lowering the number of members needed to call for a floor vote to oust a sitting speaker, according to CNN. The compromise builds on previous concessions in which McCarthy agreed to lower the number of votes needed to oust him from the position should he be elected, marking a significant win for far-right conservatives.

It’s not clear whether those compromises will be enough to get McCarthy the votes he needs to reach 218, but the current math requires the California Republican to sway at least 16 members in order to get the majority.

McCarthy drops bid and Republicans elect another GOP lawmaker

Alternatively, McCarthy could drop his speakership bid altogether and pave the way for Republicans to elect another member of their party to take up the speaker’s gavel.

It’s not entirely clear who Republicans would huddle behind as a second option, but some GOP lawmakers have garnered increasing support during the first few rounds of voting. Defector Republicans began by voting for either Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) or Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) in the first round, with all 20 defectors backing Jordan in the second and third rounds.

On the second day, all 20 defectors cast their votes for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) for the third, fourth, and fifth rounds. Additionally, one incoming freshman Republican changed her vote to “present,” which would lower the majority threshold to 217 votes if she continues to do so in future rounds.

Some Republicans have explicitly called on McCarthy to drop his bid for speaker, with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) telling him he doesn’t have the votes to win during a floor speech on Wednesday.

Parties strike deal on “unity candidate,” electing a centrist Republican

As McCarthy and other far-right members of his party wrestle with accomplishing one of the first two options, other Republicans have quietly been considering making a deal with Democrats to elect a “unity candidate” that can garner the support of both parties.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said Wednesday she wouldn’t rule out finding such a candidate to replace McCarthy but noted Democrats would need to see more concessions from Republicans in order to do so. However, Democrats have made clear they will not bail out McCarthy or the Republican Party as they scramble to elect a speaker.

“This is on them,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “If there was something that was real, we would look at that. But I haven’t seen any proof that Republicans are willing to engage.”

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Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) offered Republicans a deal to end the voting stalemate if the party can meet two conditions: not to use the debt ceiling as a political weapon and finding a deal on subpoena power. If the GOP can agree to those terms, Khanna said he could support a Republican nominee such as Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) or Mike Gallagher (R-WI).

In all six rounds of voting, no Democrat has strayed from casting voting for presumptive Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). However, if Democrats can agree on a GOP nominee, the math could help push the House across the finish line to elect a speaker.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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