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WASHINGTON — The three Texas Republican holdouts who have helped block U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker over the course of 11 historic votes and four days voted for the California Republican on Friday.
However, McCarthy still came up short of the votes to win the gavel during the first vote of the day Friday. Enough GOP members voted against McCarthy, denying him a majority — but the vote represented the most movement from his opponents since voting started Tuesday. It was the first vote where he won a plurality of votes, besting the Democrats’ choice, Hakeem Jeffries.
Reps. Chip Roy, R-Austin, and Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, as well as Rep.-elect Keith Self, R-McKinney, switched their votes for McCarthy, who is favored by the overwhelming majority of their party after a marathon of negotiations over how he would lead the House. Roy was one of the most vocal opponents to McCarthy’s speakership, demanding more changes to House rules to give more power to rank-and-file members and more mechanisms to keep leadership accountable.
Roy, Cloud and Self’s vote change signaled an imminent deal on their numerous demands on how the House should operate. Roy was one of the top negotiators for the camp opposing McCarthy’s bid, shuttling between the House floor and Republican Whip Tom Emmer’s office for hours on Thursday.
He, McCarthy and their allies presented an optimistic attitude through Thursday afternoon into Friday morning that an agreement was nigh. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told reporters Thursday evening that a first-round agreement had been presented to dissenting members, and Roy signaled a chipper tune when asked about it.
“We’re working hard,” Roy said, though he refused to disclose the contours of the negotiations with reporters.
The dissenting members hoped to reinstate a rule allowing any one member to force a vote that could remove the speaker from his post — a rule that McCarthy long resisted. They also demanded greater assurances that members would have more time to review and debate legislation and a more central role for the deeply conservative House Freedom Caucus in the Republican conference.
Roy, Cloud and Self presented themselves as good-faith negotiators who had no personal beef with McCarthy and appeared open to figuring out a leadership deal from the get-go. When Self cast his vote, he declared to the packed chamber, “We are making progress.” The three members each received thunderous applause and standing ovations from their Republican peers as they cast their votes. In the end, 14 of the 20 dissenting Republicans switched to vote for McCarthy.
“This movement has always been secondarily about who’s the speaker and primarily about reforming this place in both Republican and Democratic leadership,” Cloud said.
The Texans were eager to differentiated themselves from other more bombastic dissenters such as Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who derided McCarthy from the House floor Friday as having lost the confidence of the party. The fissure within the dissenting camp became increasingly apparent as negotiations went on, with some members saying the remaining holdouts were just doing it for attention.
“It has become clear to me that a couple of individuals are simply obstructionists, more interested in self-promotion than restoring the Republic,” Self said in a statement following his vote.
Roy and Self noted that they aren’t done negotiating, but their votes were a sign of McCarthy’s good-faith negotiating efforts. Republican members had a conference call Friday morning to flesh out where they all stood. While McCarthy indicated he had a path forward with Roy, the Austin Republican tweeted that “any agreement will take us ALL. We are making progress… but don’t let the sharks confuse the ongoing engagement.”
“What we’ve agreed to in framework will need to have accountability. We need to be able to continue to trust that we’re gonna be able to execute on what we’ve agreed to in framework,” Roy told reporters after the vote.
The members declined to go into the specifics, but Roy stressed that it was necessary for minority opinions within the chamber to get representation, including on the powerful Rules Committee. In response to reporting that limiting government spending could be part of the deal, Roy said there were no specific cuts under discussion but “we must put the brakes on out-of-control spending and that is very much a part of this discussion.” Dissenters were calling for a vote on legislation mandating a balanced budget.
Whatever the deal turns out to be, Self said it will “change the House.”
Across the aisle, however, restless amusement started turning to growing concern. Democrats have always viewed McCarthy as too extreme, advocating an agenda that would block any real hopes for bipartisan legislating. But with more concessions for members of the Freedom Caucus, Democrats grew even more uneasy.
“He wants to be speaker of the House at any cost,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. “He’s willing to give up his soul, willing to make concessions on far-right policy, on procedures — anything for him to be speaker.”
McCarthy has already committed to Roy’s plan to block the priorities of any Senate Republicans who backed last year’s bipartisan appropriations bill. Roy and other House Republicans found the package to be filled with excess spending and hammered without enough input from rank-and-file members. Rep. Jim Comer, R-Kentucky, reiterated that pledge on the House floor, saying McCarthy would “drag those senators kicking and screaming.” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was among those who supported that omnibus spending bill.
Further intraparty gridlock could jeopardize several top priorities for both parties, including raising the debt ceiling to allow the government to take out loans to fund expenditures that have already been approved by Congress. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the federal government will be forced to default on its loans for the first time in history, which would likely cause a violent shock on the U.S. economy and degrade global confidence in the nation.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, raised the concern on the House floor while nominating Jeffries for the 13th speaker vote.
“This should be deeply concerning to the American people who expect us to do our jobs and fulfill even the most fundamental functions of this institution,” Escobar said of the Republican stalemate. “What if this happens then?”