WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Kevin McCarthy flipped more than a dozen colleagues to support him in dramatic votes Friday for House speaker, a major sign of progress for the embattled leader on the fourth day and 12th ballot of a grueling standoff that is testing American democracy.
The changed votes from conservative holdouts, including the chairman of the chamber's Freedom Caucus, put McCarthy closer to seizing the gavel.
The stunning turnaround came after McCarthy agreed to many of the detractors' demands -- including the reinstatement of a longstanding House rule that would allow any single member to call a vote to oust him from office. That change and others mean the job he fought so hard to gain will be somewhat weakened.
The showdown that has stymied the new Congress came against the backdrop of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which shook the country when a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying the Republican’s 2020 election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.
A few minutes before voting began in the House chamber, Republicans tiring of the spectacle walked out when one of McCarthy's most ardent challengers railed against the GOP leader.
“We do not trust Mr. McCarthy with power,” said Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida, as colleagues streamed out of the chamber in protest of his remarks.
Contours of a deal with conservative holdouts who have been blocking McCarthy's rise emerged, but an agreement had seemed still out of reach after three dismal days and 11 failed votes in a political spectacle unseen in a century.
But an upbeat McCarthy told reporters as he arrived at the Capitol Friday morning, “We’re going to make progress. We’re going to shock you.”
One significant former holdout, Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, tweeted after his switched vote for McCarthy: “We're at a turning point.”
But several holdouts remained.
Voting resumed after Republican Rep. Mike Garcia nominated McCarthy for a 12th time, also thanking the U.S. Capitol Police who were given a standing ovation for protecting lawmakers and the legislative seat of democracy on Jan. 6.
The chamber is unable swear in members and begin its 2023-24 session. McCarthy told lawmakers there were no plans to adjourn for the weekend, one Republican said, but it might be difficult to keep them in town.
So far Republicans have been unable to settle on a new speaker — normally an easy, joyous task for a party that has just won majority control. But not this time: About 200 Republicans have been stymied by 20 far-right colleagues who said he’s not conservative enough.
The agreement McCarthy presented to the holdouts from the Freedom Caucus and others centers around rules changes they have been seeking for months. Those changes would shrink the power of the speaker’s office and give rank-and-file lawmakers more influence in drafting and passing legislation.
Even if McCarthy is able to secure the votes he needs, he will emerge as a weakened speaker, having given away some powers, leaving him constantly under threat of being voted out by his detractors. But he would also be potentially emboldened as a survivor of one of the more brutal fights for the gavel in U.S. history.
At the core of the emerging deal is the reinstatement of a House rule that would allow a single lawmaker to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially calling a vote to oust the speaker. McCarthy had resisted allowing a return to the longstanding rule that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had done away with, because it had been held over the head of past Republican Speaker John Boehner, chasing him to early retirement. But it appears he had no other choice.