Rep. Kevin McCarthy saw the first positive momentum gather behind his bid for House speaker on Friday, dramatically reducing his opposition four days into a chaotic fight that has stalled the chamber and sparked frustration among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Fifteen Republicans who had previously been among a group of holdouts voted in favor of McCarthy on Friday in a sign that his campaign for speaker has a chance of succeeding after negotiations Wednesday and Thursday yielded concessions on the road toward a deal.
“We are making progress,” Rep. Keith Self of Texas said as he announced his vote for McCarthy.
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But six lawmakers remained opposed to McCarthy for speaker on Friday, despite recent negotiations. With only a slim Republican majority in the chamber, just five detractors are needed to thwart McCarthy’s ambitions. And a handful of lawmakers remain ardently opposed.
“We do not trust Mr. McCarthy with power,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said as he nominated Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio for the speakership on Friday, while Republican colleagues walked out of the chamber in protest of Gaetz’ impassioned remarks.
The momentum comes just in time, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown restless over the impasse. Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina decried that “the greatness of our nation hangs in the balance” on Friday as he nominated incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York for speakership ahead of the vote.
“For the first time in over 200 years, after 11 rounds of voting, we are unable to organize and begin to work on behalf of those who elected us to serve,” Clyburn said as the 12th vote commenced.
Tensions were perhaps raised on Friday as well as the ongoing speaker fight spilled into the observance of two years since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, when a violent mob stormed the building as lawmakers were certifying President Joe Biden’s election win.
While some Republicans have billed the rounds of voting without consensus as an example of democracy in action, Democrats have linked the chaos stoked by the group of far-right lawmakers to that unleashed by the mob at the Capitol two years ago.
“I see, unfortunately, and I think we all know it, forces of extremism on the far right that are ready to tear down our government at whatever cost, and we’ve seen the consequences of that even in the last couple days in the chaos around electing a speaker of the House – blocking us from doing the basic work of the peoples’ business in the House of Representatives,” Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania said at a press conference this week.
Of the 20 Republicans opposing McCarthy’s bid for speaker in recent days, the majority are supporters of former President Donald Trump who voted against the certification of the 2020 election results in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. Another handful of the detractors – who were not yet members of Congress when rioters entered the Capitol – are vocal election deniers who believe Trump’s claims that he defeated Joe Biden.
While the detractors represent only a small percentage of the Republican conference, they succeeded in preventing any movement in the chamber for three consecutive days, stalling the regular functioning of the government and pointing to the far-right’s hold on the conference. And even outside of the group, a number of GOP lawmakers have a complicated history with the riot that shook the nation two years ago.
Michael Fanone, a former police officer who sustained injuries in the Jan. 6 attack, explained at a press conference marking the date that it felt like a “wake-up call” to political violence, adding that the “worst part is that our elected leaders allowed this to happen.”
“And yet this week, people who encouraged and even attended the insurrection are now taking their places as leaders in the new House majority,” Fanone said, pointing to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Gaetz and Rep.-elect Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, who attended the rally on Jan. 6 and marched to the Capitol with Trump’s supporters.
Incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts likewise extended the legacy of Jan. 6 to the GOP more broadly this week.
“It is a dark day for our country,” Clark said. “But the pinnacle of what has become the Republican Party.”