The floor of the House was paralyzed for a second day on Wednesday amid an uproar from conservatives blocking party-line Republican measures, amounting to the biggest blockade since the Speaker’s election five months ago.
In an effort to break the impasse, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his top deputies huddled in the Speaker’s office for long meetings throughout the day. A group of conservatives — including several of those who had orchestrated the blockade — also met with McCarthy.
Discussions did not yield any breakthroughs, and leaders kept the House in recess for the bulk of the day before canceling floor votes for the rest of the week altogether.
“What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna come back on Monday, work through it and be back working for the American public,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening.
Though no member made a move to try to oust McCarthy, he faces the most serious threat yet to his leadership as he appeared to lack the votes within the slim GOP majority to regain control of the House floor.
The dynamics created an extraordinary predicament for the new Speaker, whose victory lap following last week’s crucial debt ceiling win was cut short by a small but dogged group of conservatives who have essentially taken the House floor hostage to their still-undefined demands.
McCarthy, though, dismissed any threat to his Speakership, and insisted on Wednesday morning that the House GOP will work through its latest dispute and emerge stronger – and that it adds to the narrative that he has been underestimated.
“If I would shy away from this, I wouldn’t want to do this job. I enjoy this work. I enjoy this job. I enjoy this conflict,” McCarthy said.
The dramatic episode began on Tuesday, when 11 conservatives voted down a rule on the House floor in an expression of frustration over the debt limit deal negotiated between McCarthy and President Biden, which was signed into law over the weekend. The critics said the agreement, in both substance and process, violated the promises McCarthy made to conservatives during the Speakership vote in January.
The opposition has prevented votes on four GOP bills slated to hit the floor this week — relating to gas stoves and regulatory reforms — stalling the party’s messaging agenda in the near term.
But it’s the longer-term implications that might prove more significant, raising new questions about how McCarthy and GOP leaders can build up enough trust to unite the restive conference — before more consequential items need addressing, including the extension of government funding to prevent a shutdown.
As the standoff grew longer, the frustrations began bubbling up among rank-and-file Republicans, who lashed out at leaders, for a lack of communication, and at conservative holdouts, for sapping the party’s momentum following McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal.
“I’ve gone all day today, and I’ve not had any communication at all from leadership,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told reporters.
“You’ve 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 gonna take too kindly to that,” Womack said.
Rule votes are typically without drama, with the majority party voting in favor of a rule and a minority voting against it — even if members buck their leadership on the underlying bill. The last failed rule vote on the House floor was in 2002.
But as of Wednesday evening, it was unclear how the two sides could reach a resolution to allow party-line measures to proceed.
During the historic, four-day, 15-ballot Speaker’s fight in January, conservatives had proposed specific rules changes and process requests of McCarthy, many of which he eventually granted in order to secure the gavel.
But this week, the conservative rebels have not named any specific demands of McCarthy to allow business to continue on the House floor.
A group of 20 “concerned” conservatives met among themselves Wednesday morning to discuss their issues with leadership, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told The Hill.
“I don’t know,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said when asked what he is looking for in order to break the impasse and move legislation on the floor again. “The Speaker formed a coalition with Democrats to get us a $4 trillion national debt. And I continued to be concerned because he hasn’t repudiated that coalition. And my guess is he’s prepared to do that again on the next three must-pass bills: Farm Bill, NDAA, and the budget.”
“We’re looking for concrete things that are going to be done,” Norman said. When asked to elaborate, he responded: “Well, that’s in process now.”
Norman said the group knows “a couple of things” they are requesting, but could not detail them because they have not been agreed to by the group.
Part of the fury from conservatives stemmed from Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) alleging that GOP leadership threatened to keep his bill from coming to the floor if he voted against the rule for the debt limit bill last week. Scalise said Tuesday morning before the failed rule vote that he had discussed with Clyde that his bill to repeal a federal rule banning pistol braces did not yet have the support to pass in the House.
The two men met later on Tuesday, and Clyde said his bill is scheduled for a vote next Tuesday.
McCarthy addressed the dispute to reporters on Wednesday, appearing to subtly put blame on Scalise.
“The Majority Leader runs the floor. And yesterday was started on something else,” McCarthy said. “It was a conversation that the majority leader had with Clyde, and I think it was a miscalculation or misinterpretation of what one said to the other. And that’s what started this, and then something else bellowed into it.”
Tuesday’s failed rule vote appeared to be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Biggs said it was “rather organic,” and Norman said it was a “spontaneous group” who voted against the rule on the floor.
In a stunning display on the House floor, a confrontation that started between Scalise and Clyde later grew to include House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and other members of the House Freedom Caucus and their allies.
Also unlike the Speaker battle in January that prevented the House from adopting rules of the chamber or establishing committees, things in the lower chamber have not come to a complete halt. Members are still able to conduct committee business and file legislation.
If the conservatives keep up their blockade, leaders will only be able to bring floor votes on non-controversial bills under suspension of the rules that require two-thirds majority for passage.
McCarthy, through it all, remained optimistic, framing the revolt as a temporary hiccup that will eventually make the Republican conference — and his leadership spot — stronger.
“We’ve been through this before. We’re the small majority,” he told reporters in the Capitol. “You work through this and you’re going to be stronger.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.