WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Hard-line Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives rejected Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speakership for the 11th time on Thursday, while his supporters worked behind closed doors in hopes of securing a deal that could deliver victory.
The vote plunged the House into a breakdown not seen since the tumultuous era just before the Civil War, raising questions about the party’s ability to wield power even after McCarthy offered to rein in his own influence.
After the 11th poll, the House adjourned for the third time this week without electing a Speaker. Lawmakers will reconvene on Friday afternoon (1700 GMT).
McCarthy’s opponents say they don’t believe he will fight for the deep spending cuts and other restrictions they want to impose on President Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
But some Republicans held out hope for a deal between the California Republican Party and at least 20 hardline conservatives.
“Things are coming together in a very healthy way,” said Representative Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy supporter poised to lead a high-level congressional panel.
“We don’t know the timeline. But the engagement is there, that’s why I’m optimistic,” he said.
Among other things, according to Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a possible deal would allow a vote on term limits for members of Congress.
But McCarthy’s supporters stopped short of predicting a solution to the impasse anytime soon.
The inability to elect a leader left the 435-seat House impotent — newly elected members could not even be formally sworn in, hold hearings, consider legislation or scrutinize Biden and his administration.
Republicans held a slim 222-212 House majority in November’s midterm elections, meaning McCarthy could not lose the support of more than four Republicans as Democrats coalesced around their own nominee.
McCarthy, backed by former President Donald Trump for the position, has made a series of concessions that weaken the speaker’s role, which political allies warned would make the job even more difficult for him if he gets it.
At least 200 Republicans backed McCarthy in every vote this week. Less than 10% of Republican lawmakers voted against him, but it was enough to deny him the 218 votes needed to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
“What you see on this site doesn’t mean we’re dead,” said Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who nominated McCarthy’s rival Byron Donalds for the 10th ballot.
‘Make a straitjacket’
“I can tell you that some good things are happening,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, a McCarthy supporter who is one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House. “I think we’re going to see some movement.”
But some of McCarthy’s opponents show no sign of relenting.
“It ends one of two ways: Kevin McCarthy drops out of the race or we create a straitjacket that he doesn’t want to avoid,” said Rep. Matt Gates, a Republican who voted for Trump for speaker.
As speaker, McCarthy typically holds a position in shaping the chamber’s agenda and is second in line to the presidency behind Vice President Kamala Harris. He would be empowered to frustrate Biden’s legislative agenda and launch investigations into the president’s family and administration ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
In a midnight bargaining session, McCarthy gave more influence over what legislation would come up for a vote, according to a source familiar with the talks.
He also gave any individual member the ability to call a referendum to remove him from office — a move that helped at least one Republican, the previous speaker, John Boehner, retire.
Those concessions may help McCarthy win over some holdouts, but if he ultimately wins the speakership, he will be vulnerable to hardliners over the next two years.
That has alarmed some Democrats who have served as spectators to the drama over the past three days.
“With every offer, he has to wake up every day wondering if he’s still going to get his job,” Representative Richard Neal, a Democrat, told reporters.
The inability to agree on a leader raises questions about whether Republicans will force a government shutdown or risk default later this year in an effort to extract steep spending cuts. Few say they expect McCarthy or any other Republican president to take that approach.
If McCarthy ultimately fails to unite Republicans, they will have to look for a replacement. Among the possibilities are No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan, both of whom have supported McCarthy. Jordan received 20 votes when nominated by the holdouts on Tuesday.
Reporting by Moira Warburton, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Kanishka Singh and Gram Slattery; Written by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham, Howard Koller and Christian Schmollinger
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