Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, offered new concessions on Thursday to hardline colleagues rebelling against him in a leadership battle that has paralyzed the chamber even as other Republicans expressed anger that the party was fumbling its chance to wield power.
Lawmakers said McCarthy, endorsed for the post by former President Donald Trump, had offered to weaken the speaker position as a way to win over 20 right-wing Republicans who have repeatedly blocked his bid – changes that political allies warn would make doing the job even harder.
McCarthy looked set to lose a seventh round of voting on Thursday, as some in his own party voted for rival Republican Byron Donalds to deny him the majority needed to secure the post. McCarthy fell short in his attempt to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker in six prior votes on Tuesday and Wednesday – the first time in a century that the House had failed to pick a speaker on the first ballot.
“There have been a lot of concessions,” Representative Jim Banks, a McCarthy supporter, said on Fox News.
McCarthy as speaker would be empowered to frustrate Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and launch investigations of his family and administration.
But he has repeatedly failed to secure the 218 votes needed to be named House speaker, a powerful post that shapes the chamber’s agenda and is second in the line of succession to the presidency behind only the vice president. McCarthy has been the top House Republican since 2019, but has been unable to overcome the opposition of some of the chamber’s most conservative members in the speaker election drama.
More than 200 Republicans have backed him each time, with less than 10% of lawmakers in the party against McCarthy. Among other things, the holdouts have said they believe McCarthy would be too willing to cut deals with Democrats who control the Senate and the White House.
The division has prevented House lawmakers from beginning their work including scrutinizing actions by Biden’s administration and helping constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy.
“I’m very worried about it and I’m on the intelligence committee,” said Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a McCarthy supporter who said because of the speaker election fight he was unable to participate in classified briefings.
In a late-night bargaining session, McCarthy offered the holdouts greater influence over what legislation comes up for a vote, according to several media outlets. He also offered the ability for any single member to call a vote that could potentially remove him from the post – a step that helped drive at least one prior Republican speaker, John Boehner, into retirement.
Those concessions could potentially help McCarthy win over some of the holdouts but would leave him more vulnerable to the hardliners through the rest of the next two years if he ultimately wins the speakership.
“You have 20 people demanding that 201 surrender to them unconditionally. Well, I am not going to surrender,” Republican Representative Trent Kelly told reporters after a late Wednesday vote rejecting McCarthy.
He was joined by 17 other Republicans who expressed similar views, with Representative John James accusing the 20 holdouts of “governing on fear.”
The inability to agree on a leader also raises questions about whether Republicans will force a government shutdown or risk default later this year in a bid to extract steep spending cuts. Some of the holdouts say they expect McCarthy or any other Republican leader to take that approach.
A weaker-than-expected performance in the midterm elections gave Republicans a slim 222-212 majority in the House.
If McCarthy ultimately fails to unite Republicans, they would have to search for an alternative. Possibilities include No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise and Representative Jim Jordan, who have both backed McCarthy. Jordan received 20 votes when nominated by the holdouts on Tuesday.
Republicans could also look to Democrats for help, although House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters that they have not reached out. Democratic Representative Ro Khanna told Reuters he and others could support a moderate Republican who would agree to share subpoena power with Democrats and to avoid brinkmanship over government funding and the debt ceiling.
Trump on Wednesday had urged Republicans to unite behind McCarthy. Trump remains an influential figure among Republicans and is so far the only announced presidential candidate for 2024. Some in the party have blamed Trump for the failure of Republicans to win more congressional seats in the midterms.