WASHINGTON — Many House Republicans are furious with a gang of far-right rebels who they say are holding the party hostage by repeatedly rejecting their candidate for president.
But there is one thing they are so far unwilling to do: work with a faction of Democrats to elect a centrist speaker to govern the narrow Republican majority and teach the agitators a lesson.
«That’s really off the table,» said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who has built a reputation as an institutionalist over the years. «I don’t think anyone has voted to do that. I don’t think it works very well at any time. I think it’s particularly inappropriate for these times. The polarization is too great.»
Cole said that for all the Republican divisions in the House, «there is no question» that most caucus members are closer in policy and vision to anti-McCarthy rebels than centrist Democrats.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., who calls himself a «pragmatic conservative,» also dismissed the idea as fantasy. “I think anyone imagining some kind of unity or fusion approach is probably paying more attention to the Aaron Sorkin movies than how this place normally works,” he said.
The unwillingness of most House Republicans to compromise with Democrats on a speaker weakens their leverage in the showdown with a group of 20 right-wing lawmakers who want to defeat Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. , who has the support of 90% of the Republican Party caucus. It also serves as a preview of how moderates can operate in a stalemate over bills due in the next two years, such as funding the government and avoiding debt default, which far-right members are already threatening. unless the measures are tied to ambitious conservatives. priorities
Divisions in the Republican Party have led to six unsuccessful votes for president, the first time in a century that a House majority has required multiple tries to elect a president. They risk further damaging the image of the Republican Party after a disappointing performance in the 2022 midterms that led to their current slim majority.
It’s a precarious situation for moderate members, who are more likely to represent swing districts and who could suffer more from a tarnished party image. By contrast, far-right Republicans come mostly from safe red districts and face little threat of losing their seats to Democrats in a general election.
McCarthy and his aides continued to negotiate with right-wing forces on Wednesday to address their demands, which include facilitating the ouster of a speaker and promises involving votes on legislation, committee assignments and more. Much of the caucus views the demands as unreasonable and irresponsible, and McCarthy himself accused those lawmakers of acting selfishly and not in the best interest of the country.
The talks failed to make a breakthrough on Wednesday, and the House voted 216-214 to adjourn until noon on Thursday.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who represents a district that President Joe Biden won in 2020, is one of the rare Republicans who has publicly floated the idea of working with Democrats in a consensus election, but acknowledged there are no serious negotiations. at this time.
«If they’re not going to work with us, we’re going to push this further to the court,» he said of the far-right lawmakers. «There will be people across the aisle who will make a deal with us when it comes to working on committees and things like that. But we don’t want to go too far down this road. This is Kevin McCarthy right now, giving them every opportunity.»
As Bacon and other McCarthy allies raise the possibility of a bipartisan speaker securing votes to make him a speaker, the anti-McCarthy faction is delusional.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who has voted against McCarthy all six times, said he doesn’t think any Republicans will go to the House Freedom Caucus and join Democrats in choosing a speaker. If they did, he said, they would lose their next Republican primary.
Democrats open door to consensus speaker
Some Democrats say they are open to negotiating a consensus speaker. Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and others say they want conditions, including that a candidate speaker promise not to allow the debt limit to be used as a weapon to force political concessions.
Without a speaker, the House cannot conduct any business, raising the stakes for members of both parties who want to govern or launch investigations each day the deadlock continues.
«We have big issues facing the country, from the debt ceiling to Ukraine, and obviously we’re going to have to run the government,» said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, DN.J., Democratic co-chairman of the bipartisan Dispute Fixers Caucus. problems. «Right now, it’s on your plate. This is on your side to determine your domestic economy. You have to pick a speaker. But we all have a responsibility to run the country.»
Gottheimer said divided government presents opportunities for the parties to work together on domestic manufacturing, semiconductor production, immigration reform, mental health and police support. «Shall the House be established to govern and direct the country?» he said. «If your extremists win and become empowered, that makes it harder for the country to govern.»
But Gottheimer’s Republican co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, is helping McCarthy negotiate with holdouts in the Freedom Caucus, saying discussions have been «more productive» in small groups.
Some of McCarthy’s opponents insist they will not back down, expressing great tolerance for chaos and a willingness to continue to inflict defeat after defeat on their party leadership.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, said he will continue to block McCarthy from speaking «until the cherry blossoms fall off the trees,» which usually happens in April.
Frustration with Gaetz and his faction ran high on Wednesday.
“This group has now managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And in victory was this Republican majority,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., told reporters. «There’s a negotiation, and then we have the rest of us hostage. And 20 can’t do that to 201.»
But Waltz did not present a solution to tame the rebels, saying: «I’m going to vote for Kevin McCarthy as long as he’s on the ballot.»