Congress McCarthy

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif. speaks to reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

A two-day stalemate between hard-right Republicans and GOP leaders has effectively frozen the House from considering any legislation for the foreseeable future, as both groups failed to find a resolution to the standoff that would allow the majority to vote on bills.

Just past 6 p.m. Wednesday, after GOP leaders gave up on resolving the impasse this week and canceled the remaining votes for the week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) addressed reporters and explained that part of the ongoing frustration is the hard-line faction’s inability to articulate their demands.

“This is the difficult thing,” he said. “Some of these members, they don’t know what to ask for.”

McCarthy met with several members of the House Freedom Caucus on multiple occasions Wednesday to negotiate on their demands after 11 lawmakers – still angry over McCarthy’s handling of the debt ceiling bill – voted with Democrats against passing a rule Tuesday that would have set parameters for debate of several noncontroversial bills this week.

The blockade presents a high-stakes challenge for McCarthy as he seeks to assuage the myriad demands by the far-right faction of conference; previous Republican speakers have had to confront similar challenges before they were eventually forced out of the position. The conflict not only threatens McCarthy’s tenure with the speaker’s gavel, but also the House’s ability to take up any legislation, contributing to growing irritation within the razor-thin majority.

McCarthy admitted Wednesday he had been “blindsided” by Tuesday’s blocked vote, which became the first House rule vote to fail since November 2002. But he insisted that the Republican conference would emerge stronger, in similar fashion to when the same group of lawmakers challenged his bid to becoming speaker.


Speaking to reporter after having just come from a reception for his mentor, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who often clashed with his junior rank-and-file Republicans during his tumultuous four-year stint, McCarthy tried to project the same optimism he exhibited in January when it took 15 rounds of voting and multiple concessions for him to win the speakership.

“We’ll listen to them, we’ll solve this, just like every time we go through here,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got a small majority. There’s a little chaos going on.”

The surprise rebuke underscored the anger that several members of the Freedom Caucus and other hard-right conservatives still harbored toward Republican leadership over their willingness to allow Democrats to vote in support of the debt bill and override their concerns before sending it to the Senate, where it also passed in bipartisan fashion. President Biden signed the deal over the weekend, barely skirting a catastrophic default that had been projected for Monday.

McCarthy, Biden and their lieutenants had brokered a deal days before to suspend the debt ceiling until 2025 and cut federal spending, prompting outrage from several hard-right GOP lawmakers who argued that the bill did not cut spending enough – and who accused McCarthy of violating several promises that they say helped them elect him speaker.

At the center of the far-right’s concern is an argument that McCarthy violated an agreement several of them struck in January in exchange for supporting his speakership bid. No list of those promises made exists publicly, so it’s unclear exactly what lawmakers and McCarthy agreed to. But several members of the Freedom Caucus have claimed he violated three main components of the agreement: Supporting legislation that reduces spending back to 2022 appropriation levels; putting legislation on the floor that is not passed overwhelmingly by Democrats; and not taking up bills that don’t have unanimous support from Republicans on the House Rules Committee.

Ahead of a meeting with Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.), McCarthy accused the group of “moving the goal post.”


“We never promised we’re going to be all at ’22 levels. I said we would strive to get to the ’22 level or the equivalent amount of cut. We’ve met all that criteria,” McCarthy said. “I think we kind of hit the sweet spot. The difficult part is, when anytime you try to work any type of agreement, you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want. But think of what we did achieve.”

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), one of the lawmakers who voted against the rule vote on Tuesday, said Wednesday that he did so because Republican leadership had “not taken reckless spending” seriously, and again alluded to unspoken promises he said GOP leadership had made.

“There are over a thousand unauthorized government programs that continue to be funded without oversight, Congressional hearings, or a reauthorization vote,” Buck said in a statement. “Promises were made earlier this year regarding spending; I expect those commitments to be kept.”

Throughout Wednesday morning, the group of disrupters met and spoke with McCarthy and his team. Leadership remains unclear what exactly the group of 11 Republicans want, and different members want different things, making it more difficult to address their concerns, according to four people close to leadership who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Holdouts are pushing for immediate consideration of a bill proposed by Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) regarding pistol braces. Clyde accused Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) of threatening to hold the bill from consideration in the full House if Clyde voted against the debt deal. Scalise has denied the accusation, saying he only informed Clyde that his bill couldn’t be brought onto the floor until it had enough GOP support.

Another bill being discussed would permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds for being used for abortion services, with some exceptions. The bill was on a list Scalise had proposed would be on the floor the first two weeks of January, but it has been shelved because there are not enough votes to pass it through the Republicans’ slim majority.


Whether agreement related to those bills has been found remains unclear, but many saw the announcement that the House would adjourn until Monday as an ominous sign no progress had been made.

While Republican leaders were trying to negotiate with members of the Freedom Caucus, an equally important discussion about the House’s future was taking place in the office of Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). Emmer and his chief deputy, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), met a dozen moderate lawmakers who represent swing districts to discuss what legislation they would like to be considered on the House floor, according to six people familiar with the meeting.

Though the meeting was not called in response to the standoff with the hard-right members, lawmakers discussed the need to vote on measures that would help voters understand that a Republican majority is passing bills that help their pocketbook. Most lawmakers were critical that what they would like to see passed could possibly be blocked if the Freedom Caucus forbids votes on bipartisan bills.

Meanwhile, other Republicans waiting to be told of what happens next were growing frustrated. Several governance-minded Republicans privately expressed their frustration that a small faction of their conference continues to hold up “the majority of the majority” from doing their basic job in elected office and voting – with little optimism that things change when lawmakers return on Monday.

“This is, in my opinion, political incontinence on our part. We are wetting ourselves and can’t do anything about. This is insane,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said. “This is not the way a governing majority is expected to behave. And frankly, I think there’ll be a political cost to it.”

Womack did not save criticism for leaders, noting that rank-and-file members had not heard from their leadership all day about what was happening Wednesday.

“You got the tail wagging the dog. You got a small group of people who are pissed off that are keeping the house of representatives from functioning today, and I think the American people are not going to take too kindly to that,” he added.

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