The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McCarthy makes fresh concessions to try to woo hard-right Republicans in speaker bid

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) speaks during a meeting with GOP members before the House convened for a third day of speaker elections on Thursday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has made fresh concessions to a group of 20 GOP lawmakers in hopes of ending their blockade of his speakership ahead of votes Thursday, a stunning reversal that, if adopted, would weaken the position of speaker and ensure a tenuous hold on the job.

During late-hour negotiations Wednesday, McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed to the proposed rule changes, according to four people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

In a major allowance to the hard-right Republicans, McCarthy offered to lower from five to one the number of members required to sponsor a resolution to force a vote on ousting the speaker — a change that the California Republican had previously said he would not accept.

McCarthy also expressed a willingness to place more members of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus on the House Rules Committee, which debates legislation before it’s moved to the floor.

And he relented on allowing floor votes to institute term limits on members and to enact specific border policy legislation.

It remained unclear early Thursday whether the concessions could move the holdouts, several of whom have said they will not support McCarthy no matter what. The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon Thursday for more voting. But some moderates have grown irate at the moves, after pledging last month they would never support a rules package that gives one House member the power to vacate the speaker.

McCarthy emerged from the Wednesday night meeting bluntly telling reporters that the impasse continued, but suggested that progress was being made.

“I don’t think a vote tonight will make a difference,” he said. “But a vote in the future will.”

House Republicans met all over Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, with moderates huddled in McCarthy’s office, holdouts gathering off-campus, and whips in a House meeting room — all in an effort to gauge where the conference is and whether the votes are there to elect McCarthy as speaker Thursday.

One lawmaker who emerged from the whip meeting, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said they think Texas Republican Chip Roy and possibly 10 others could be swayed with McCarthy’s latest concessions. But it remains unclear whether those defectors will flip to McCarthy or instead vote present, which wouldn’t help McCarthy’s quest for a majority on the floor.

“This could take days,” the lawmaker said.

Some Republicans are feeling more confident after seeing conservative media press Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert on Wednesday over her continued opposition. They think continued pressure from influential media members, as well as donors who are being encouraged to make calls, could flip some of those more open to McCarthy’s concessions.

But the tensions continue to run high within the fractious conference, with one member recalling another GOP colleague telling them, “I wouldn’t piss on them if they are on fire,” referencing the holdouts.

On Jan. 4, Republican Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) failed to garner the 218 votes needed to be elected House speaker. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

McCarthy has failed six times to secure the necessary votes to become speaker over two days of voting, a stalemate for majority Republicans that highlighted deep divisions within the party and raised questions about whether the GOP can run the House with a slim advantage.

Amid the humiliating defeats in floor votes, McCarthy has struggled to win over the defectors. Through three rounds of voting Wednesday, he failed to gain any support — and in fact lost a vote from one lawmaker, Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who switched her vote to “present” as a message to her colleagues to reach a compromise.

In another bid to woo holdouts, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC endorsed by McCarthy, and the conservative Club for Growth, which had initially signaled opposition to McCarthy as speaker, announced a deal Wednesday to stay out of open House primaries for safe Republican seats.

“Kevin McCarthy has effectively led House Republicans from the Minority to the Majority and we want to see him continue to lead the party so we can pick up seats for the third cycle in a row,” Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said in a statement.

During the midterm elections, the McCarthy-endorsed group worked to elect more moderate Republican candidates considered more willing to govern, an intervention that alienated staunch hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus.

Club for Growth President David McIntosh said Wednesday that the agreement not to interfere with “safe-seat primaries” fulfilled a major concern they had pressed for.

“We understand that Leader McCarthy and Members are working on a rules agreement that will meet the principles we have set out previously,” McIntosh said in a statement. “Assuming these principles are met, Club for Growth will support Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.”

John Wagner contributed to this report.

Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House

The vote: The House elected Kevin McCarthy after days of defeats and concessions to win over hard-line Republicans. See how each of the House members voted in all 15 ballots.

A dramatic finish: After multiple ballots over four days (the longest House speaker vote in history took two months and 133 votes), the House turned into a near-brawl late Friday after a 14th round of voting failed. See the remarkable near-confrontation on the House floor.

Kevin McCarthy’s concessions: McCarthy made several concessions in an attempt to win over 20 Republicans who voted against his candidacy. In the end, these were the remaining six holdouts McCarthy needed to persuade. Here are the concessions that could become flash points.