WASHINGTON — On Wednesday night, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and his conservative critics worked toward a deal aimed at turning some no-votes into yes. But such a deal seemed unlikely to give McCarthy the 218 votes needed to win the speaker’s gavel.
A handful of hardline conservatives, led by the Florida Republican Congressman. Matt Gaetz said they are still hell-bent on preventing McCarthy from running for speaker. And with the Republicans’ new slim majority, McCarthy could only afford four Republican defections in any speaker vote.
“If Kevin McCarthy doesn’t back down, then he’s going to have to do his entire speech in a leotard that’s built out of these rules that we’re putting in place right now,” Gates said during an appearance on Fox News Thursday night, nodding to efforts to weaken the McCarthy’s power.
“We have zero trust in Kevin McCarthy. … This is a guy whose compass is like a finger wet in the wind,” Gates said.
Still, there are signs that McCarthy and the leaders of the far-right Freedom Caucus are on the cusp of a breakthrough that could sway more McCarthy votes — and change the momentum in his favor.
“Yesterday I felt very positive. I feel more positive today,” McCarthy said as he left the Capitol overnight.
At noon EST on Friday, the House of Representatives reconvened for the 12th speaker vote.
On Friday morning, McCarthy held a conference call with Republican members to discuss the situation before voting began. He and his team laid out “parameters for a deal,” a Republican who attended the meeting told NBC News. “But there’s no real deal yet.”
McCarthy expressed optimism but made it clear he has yet to secure the votes, according to more than half a dozen people who participated in the call.
“I’m not telling you we have a deal,” McCarthy said at one point, according to two people familiar with the matter. “We’re in a good position and meeting.”
Over the past three days, McCarthy has been defeated in 11 straight ballots as about 20 conservatives voted against him — a harsh public rebuke to normally upbeat Californians.
But as Thursday’s failed roll call aired on national television, negotiators gathered privately downstairs to hammer out the outlines of a deal on a package of rule changes and valuable seats on key committees. That includes giving a lawmaker the power to force a midterm vote to remove the sitting speaker; previously, McCarthy had agreed that at least five members would be required to file a motion to “cease” the speaker’s seat.
The emerging agreement would also give Freedom Caucus members seats on rules and other influential committees. Negotiators said a deal with the conservatives chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry would bring McCarthy closer to the finish line.
“You never eat a sandwich in one sitting,” Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., a McCarthy loyalist and the incoming chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus, said in an interview. , then that would be a big bite of this sandwich.”
“Once you shrink the sandwich down to a smaller size, frankly, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to finish it,” he says.
Members of the Freedom Caucus declined to show their cards or say whether a deal had been reached after leaving talks in the first-floor office of Majority Whip Tom Emmer.
“We’ll see,” the congressman said. Asked whether McCarthy would be the speaker, one of the 20 defectors was Representative Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas. “We’re still trying to work through all the issues. There’s no benefit in discussing these things openly.”
“We’re evaluating and working,” Perry added.
A wild card: Possibly absent if the speaker’s vote drags on longer.Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) missed some votes Thursday Report Home for medical appointments. There will be sickness, funerals, family trips and babies that could cause lawmakers to skip votes and change the Speaker’s math equation.
Democratic leaders, however, are working to keep their troops aligned and ensure that any absence on one side of the aisle does not inadvertently give McCarthy additional breathing room.
To ensure that, Gates was spotted multiple times on the House floor checking with top Democrats, including members of Congress, on Thursday. Joe Neguse of Colorado and Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, on whether they anticipate any absences.
It’s an unlikely alliance.
“My conversations with the Democrats are mostly about making sure they don’t get off the floor to go to a dinner party or a fundraiser or something like that,” Gates told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “We need them to stay there so that the denominator in the equation for electing the Speaker gives us leverage.”
“I want to make sure people stay on the floor.”
Allies of McCarthy have vowed to stick with their candidate no matter how long it takes.
“If it’s going to be tomorrow, it’s going to be tomorrow; if it’s going to be July 4th, it’s July 4th,” the congressman said. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., the new chief deputy whip and No. 1 man. 2 ticket counters. “Kevin will be the speaker.”
hayley talbot, Kate Santa Leeds, Liz Brown-Caesar, Julie Zilkin, Olympia Sunier, Gary Grunbach , julia clown and Kyle Stewart contributed.