Updated Jan 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

House starts 15th ballot on dramatic night of speakership vote

Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, speaks on a phone during a meeting of the 118th Congress in the House Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy fell just short of a majority vote for the speakership after two holdouts voted "present" instead of "no" late Friday night.

Driving the news: In a historic 14th straight round of voting, Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) voted present, leaving McCarthy with 216 of the 432 total votes.

  • The House had reconvened at 10 p.m. after adjourning Friday afternoon to give McCarthy more time to seal the deal.
  • Former President Trump gave McCarthy a last-minute boost by calling both Gaetz and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) on Friday and telling them the speakership needed to be resolved, a source familiar with the calls tells Axios.
Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy during the 14th round of the speakership vote. Courtesy: C-SPAN

State of play: Most of the flips Friday came earlier during the chamber's 12th ballot and helped McCarthy move closer than he's ever been to securing the gavel.

  • During the 12th ballot, 14 Republicans changed their vote to support McCarthy: Reps. Dan Bishop, Scott Perry, Chip Roy, Paul Gosar, Michael Cloud, Byron Donalds, Andrew Clyde, Mary Miller, Andy Ogles, Ralph Norman and Victoria Spartz, as well as Reps.-elect Josh Brecheen, Anna Paulina Luna and Keith Self.
  • Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) switched his vote to McCarthy during the 13th round.

What they're saying: "Over the past several days, I’ve worked alongside Speaker Designate [Kevin McCarthy] and several of my colleagues in good faith to ensure accountability, representation, and commitments from House leadership in the 118th Congress," Donalds (R-Fla.) said on Twitter. "The progress we’ve made is significant."

  • "What we’ve witnessed is monumental and a testament to how government should function in our Constitutional Republic. As we continue negotiations, I’m confident our conference is positioned to get the ball over the finish line," Donalds added.
  • "The Speaker’s Office must work for We The People, and I believe the concessions we’ve secured achieve this. Republicans are ready to govern and deliver results on behalf of our constituents and the nation," he said.
  • "There was no one moment that tipped the scales, they had been working in good faith," Norman (R-S.C.) told reporters. "Should it have been quicker? May have, but it worked out and now it's a good thing."

Context: The breakthrough earlier Friday came after McCarthy hosted a GOP conference call that morning and expressed optimism after a night of negotiations, two sources on the call said. But no official deal had been reached, and even an agreement with a handful of persuadable rebels would not clinch the votes McCarthy needs to become speaker.

  • McCarthy said on the conference call that more votes are possible over the weekend.
  • Because the speaker contest relies on a majority threshold, member absences could reduce McCarthy's magic number down from 218 votes. But if it's McCarthy supporters who are absent, that could further empower the rebels.

The big picture: On the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Republican infighting ground the House's work to a halt — with a viable path to consensus gradually coming into view.

Between the lines: While McCarthy's support expanded, some of his backers had previously indicated that they wouldn't blindly vote for him regardless of the vast concessions he made to his far-right detractors — creating an extremely fraught tightrope.

  • Asked if there was anything that could make him drop his support for McCarthy, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) had said on MSNBC Thursday: "There actually is. And honestly, there's many of us who feel like we're very, very close to that."
  • Gaetz (R-Fla.), a leading rebel who has been brutally honest in his hostility toward McCarthy, had told reporters that the standoff would end with either McCarthy withdrawing or agreeing to a "straitjacket" that fully constrains him as speaker.

Go deeper: McCarthy talks escalate as speaker vote adjourns on Day 3

Editor's note: This story is developing and will be updated.

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