Republican Kevin McCarthy on Friday picked up support from right-wing hardliners in the U.S. House of Representatives who had blocked his speakership bid, but it was not enough to end the deepest congressional dysfunction in more than 150 years.
In a 12th round of voting in four days, 14 Republicans who previously opposed McCarthy voted for him in a sign that his prospects may be improving after he offered the holdouts a range of concessions that would limit his clout if he succeeds in becoming speaker of the House.
But seven fellow Republicans still voted against him, leaving him three votes short of the majority needed to win the speaker’s gavel and prompting his supporters to put his nomination forward for a 13th vote.
McCarthy earlier had predicted progress.
“Watch here and you’ll see some people who have been voting against me voting for me,” McCarthy, 57, said before Friday’s vote.
Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in November midterm elections left them with a narrow 222-212 majority and gives outsized power to the right-wing hardliners who oppose McCarthy’s leadership.
They have railed against McCarthy, accusing him of being soft and too open to compromise with President Joe Biden and his Democrats, who also control the U.S. Senate.
McCarthy already has agreed to limit his clout and make him vulnerable to new leadership challenges. Some of the hardliners say they want a leader who will be ready to force government shutdowns to cut spending.
That raises the possibility the two parties would fail to reach a deal when the federal government comes up against its $31.4 trillion debt limit this year. Lack of agreement or even a long standoff risks a default that would shake the global economy.
Some who changed their votes said they were persuaded to drop their opposition by McCarthy’s willingness to give their faction greater clout in the chamber.
“We’re at a turning point,” Representative Scott Perry, who backed McCarthy after opposing him in 11 previous votes, said on Twitter. “The framework for an agreement is in place.”
But it was unclear what – if anything – McCarthy could do to win over the remaining holdouts.
The larger body of mainline Republicans who support McCarthy fear the hardliners’ stunts – such as nominating little-known members and even Republican Donald Trump for the role – portrays them as unable to govern.
Of the 20 Republicans who this week have cast votes opposing McCarthy, 14 received campaign contributions totaling $120,000 ahead of the midterms from the McCarthy-controlled Majority Committee fundraising group, federal disclosures show.
The House remained leaderless and unable to begin its business on Friday, the two-year anniversary of a Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol when a violent mob stormed Congress in an attempt to overturn then-President Trump’s election loss.
Several House Democrats said they saw a connection.
“Two years ago, a violent mob – fueled by hate and a tyrannical president – stormed the Capitol and attacked our democracy,” said No. 2 House Democrat Katherine Clark in a statement on Friday.
“Tragically, the same extremist forces continue to have a stranglehold on House Republicans. They cannot elect a leader because their Conference is held hostage by Members who peddle misinformation and want to dismantle democracy.”
This week’s 12 failed votes marked the highest number of ballots for the speakership since 1859. But McCarthy rejected a suggestion it meant he would be a weak leader if he succeeded.
McCarthy’s last bid for speaker, in 2015, crumbled in the face of right-wing opposition. The two previous Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, left the job after conflict with right-wing colleagues.
Wielding the speaker’s gavel would give McCarthy the authority to block Biden’s legislative agenda, force votes for Republican priorities on the economy, energy and immigration, and move forward with investigations of Biden, his administration and his family.
But McCarthy offered to allow a single member to call for a vote to remove the speaker, according to a source involved in the talks. That would give hardliners extraordinary leverage by allowing them to challenge McCarthy’s authority at any time.
McCarthy also proposed a vote on a U.S. constitutional amendment to impose congressional term limits, said Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican moderate involved in the talks. That is unlikely to become law as it would require two-thirds majorities in both chambers and approval by 38 state legislatures.