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McCarthy and his foes move closer to a deal as the speakers’ showdown enters Day 4

PorSam Miller

Ene 6, 2023

WASHINGTON — House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and his conservative detractors closed Wednesday night on a deal designed to convert some no votes into the yes column. But it seems unlikely that such a deal will give McCarthy the 218 votes he needs to win the speaker’s deck.

A handful of hardline conservatives, led by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, said they remained hell-bent on derailing McCarthy’s bid for president. And because of the GOP’s new minimum majority, McCarthy can only afford four GOP defections in any one speaker vote.

«If Kevin McCarthy doesn’t retire, then he’s going to have to live out the entirety of his speech in a straitjacket built by these rules that we’re working on now,» Gaetz said in an appearance on Fox News Thursday night, nodding to efforts to dilute McCarthy’s power.

“We have zero confidence in Kevin McCarthy. … This is someone whose compass is like a wet finger in the wind,» Gaetz said.

Still, there were signs that McCarthy and the leaders of the far-right Freedom Caucus were on the cusp of a breakthrough that could generate more votes for McCarthy and shift the momentum in his favor.

“I felt very positive yesterday. Today I feel more positive,” McCarthy said as he left the Capitol for the night.

The House will return to session at noon on Friday, Eastern time, when more votes are possible.

McCarthy will hold a conference call with Republican members on Friday morning to discuss the situation. They are «setting the parameters of a deal,» a Republican at the meeting told NBC News. «But there’s still no real deal.»

McCarthy expressed optimism but made it clear he didn’t have the votes yet, according to more than six people on the call.

«I’m not telling you we have an agreement,» McCarthy said at one point, according to two people. «We are in a good position and having meetings.»

Over the past three days, McCarthy has been defeated in 11 straight ballots as a gang of about 20 conservatives held firm against him, a stinging public rebuke for the normally optimistic Californian.

But as Thursday’s botched roll calls played on national television, negotiators huddled in private one floor below, working out the contours of an agreement on a package of rule changes and prized seats on key committees. That includes giving a single lawmaker the power to force a vote to oust a sitting speaker midterm; previously, McCarthy had agreed that at least five members would be needed to make a «motion to vacate» the speaker’s chair.

The emerging deal would also give members of the Freedom Caucus seats on rules and other influential committees. Negotiators said completing a deal with the conservative caucus, chaired by Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, would bring McCarthy closer to the finish line.

“You never eat a sandwich in one gulp. It takes several bites,» Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., a McCarthy loyalist and new chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus, said in an interview. this sandwich.»

“Once you downsize the sandwich to a smaller size, it frankly becomes a lot easier to figure out how to finish it,” he said.

Walking out of the talks, in the first-floor office of Majority Whip Tom Emmer, members of the Freedom Caucus refused to show their cards and would not say whether an agreement had been reached.

«We’ll see,» said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of the 20 defectors, when asked if McCarthy will be the speaker. «We’re still working on everything. There’s no use debating these things in public.»

«We are evaluating and working,» Perry added.

A wild card: possible absences if the speaker’s vote lasts much longer. Rep. Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, missed some voting Thursday because of a reported medical appointment back home. There will be illnesses, funerals, family travel and baby births that could cause legislators to skip votes and upset the math equation for speakers.

Democratic leaders, however, are pushing hard to keep their troops in line and ensure that absences from their side of the aisle don’t inadvertently give McCarthy extra breathing space.

Just to be sure of that, Gaetz was seen several times on the House floor Thursday consulting with top Democrats, including Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington, about whether they expected no-shows.

It’s an unlikely alliance.

“My conversations with Democrats have been very much about making sure they don’t leave the room for dinner or fundraisers or whatever,” Gaetz told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. «We need them to stay there so that the denominator in the equation about choosing a speaker allows us to have influence.»

«I wanted to make sure people stayed on the floor.»

McCarthy’s allies vow to stick with their candidate no matter how long it takes.

«If it takes until tomorrow, it takes until tomorrow; if it takes until July 4, it takes until July 4,» said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., the new deputy chief and No. 2 accountant for votes «Kevin will be the speaker.»

haley talbot, kate santaliz, Liz Brown-Kaiser, julie tsirkin, Olympia Sonnier, gary grumbach , julia jester Y kyle stewart contributed.