The lawmaker fell short of the 218 votes necessary to gain control of the gavel in multiple ballots during the first meetings of the new Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Defectors in the Republican caucus have rallied around lawmakers such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) as potential alternatives, while Democrats supported House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
McCarthy received a renewed endorsement from former President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and both Jordan and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) nominated McCarthy for the position on different votes on Tuesday.
The new concessions included allowances for one member to introduce a motion to vacate rather than five, enabling lawmakers to more easily replace McCarthy should he become the presiding officer, according to a report from Axios based on multiple Republican sources. He also promised to hold votes on term limits and border security, as well as grant the House Freedom Caucus more seats on the powerful House Rules Committee.
CNN correspondents Manu Raju and Melanie Zanona reported on the same concessions, noting that the moves will earn McCarthy more votes but will not “close the gap.” CNN added that a political action committee aligned with McCarthy agreed to refrain from playing in open Republican primaries with safe seats, reflecting another demand from holdouts.
McCarthy allies and skeptical Republicans held talks on Wednesday that were reportedly the most productive to date. “There were a whole bunch of members that were involved in this and there are some folks now that are sitting down and talking about that discussion to see where they want to go with it next,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) remarked.
McCarthy is attempting to succeed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as the most powerful lawmaker in the lower chamber, a maneuver complicated by midterm election results that provided Republicans only a narrow majority. Seven lawmakers authored a letter to McCarthy arguing that the current balance of power grants undue control to leadership and impedes serious debate among members.
“The House leadership of both parties has increasingly centralized decision-making power around fewer and fewer individuals,” they wrote, “at the expense of deliberation and input by the body. This results in massive, multi-subject bills that are unable to be amended or fully read, all driven by supposedly must-pass defense and appropriations measures. In the process, we’ve amassed trillions of dollars in debt, empowered administration bureaucrats who target citizens, and failed to carry out our basic duties to defend the American People.”
McCarthy seems to have anticipated challenges from conservatives; he vowed in the letter announcing his candidacy that he would be a “listener every bit as much as a Speaker, striving to build consensus from the bottom-up rather than commanding the agenda from the top-down” (emphasis original). Demands from conservative holdouts include Republican leaders refraining from involvement in primary elections, ensuring greater representation of conservative-leaning members on important committees, and prioritizing holding “weaponized” agencies accountable.