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Standoff over U.S. House speaker grinds on; McCarthy opponents unbowed

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The chair of the Speaker of the House sits empty for a third straight day as members of the House gather for another expected round of voting for a new Speaker on the third day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republican Kevin McCarthy’s perilous quest to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives entered the fourth day on Friday, with a scale of congressional dysfunction not seen since before the U.S. Civil War.

The House was scheduled to reconvene at noon (1700 GMT)
, as lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors on a possible deal that McCarthy’s supporters hoped could break the logjam and finally allow him to succeed after 11 failed floor votes since Tuesday.

“We’ve got some progress going on. We’ve got members talking. I think we’ve got a little movement, so we’ll see,” McCarthy told reporters.

This week’s 11 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. “Apparently, I like to make history,” he joked.

The California Republican faces a party rift between an overwhelming majority of House Republicans who support him and 20 hardline conservatives who continue to oppose him, even after McCarthy offered to curb his own clout.

The speaker’s gavel would give McCarthy the authority to block President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, force votes for Republican priorities on economy, energy and immigration, and move forward with investigations of Biden and his administration.

But the holdouts want a deal that would make it easier to oust the speaker and give them greater influence within the House Republican caucus and on congressional committees.

Some of his opponents also say they don’t trust him to mount the political brinkmanship necessary to contain the federal debt and impose spending cuts on Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Late on Wednesday, some Republicans held out hope of a deal on the direction of the party caucus that could persuade at least some of his opponents to yield.

“I think that’s coming together well,” said Representative Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy supporter who is poised to lead a top congressional committee.

McCarthy, who was backed by former President Donald Trump for the post, offered the holdouts a range of concessions that would weaken the speaker’s role, which political allies warned would make the job even harder if he got it. A possible agreement could also allow for a vote on term limits for members of Congress.

But it was not clear how many holdouts would be persuaded. Some Republicans believed the agreement under discussion might give McCarthy as many as 10 additional votes.

Because of its inability to choose a leader, the 435-seat House has been rendered impotent – unable even to formally swear in newly elected members let alone hold hearings, consider legislation or scrutinize Biden and his administration.

Republicans won a slim 222-212 House majority in the November midterm elections, meaning McCarthy cannot afford to lose the support of more than four Republicans as Democrats united around their own candidate.

Some of McCarthy’s opponents showed no sign of yielding.

“This ends in one of two ways: either Kevin McCarthy withdraws from the race or we construct a straitjacket that he is unwilling to evade,” said Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who voted for Trump for speaker.

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