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House in stalemate after hard-right Republicans defy McCarthy, block legislation

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.Ting Shen/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — The House remained in a stalemate Wednesday, recessing minutes after the session began, as hard-right Republicans defied GOP leadership and blocked legislation.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met Wednesday afternoon with several members of the House Freedom Caucus to negotiate on their demands after 11 hard-right lawmakers — still angry over McCarthy’s handling of the debt ceiling bill — voted with Democrats against passing a rule for consideration of several bills this week. A resolution has yet to be struck, though ongoing negotiations now involve possibly scheduling votes on key bills that the Freedom Caucus prioritizes.

McCarthy acknowledged Wednesday he had been “blindsided” Tuesday — it was the first rule vote to fail since November 2002 — but insisted that the Republican caucus would emerge stronger.


“We’re talking through it. I think we’ll get ... through it,” McCarthy said, trying 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. Without the passage of the rule vote, the House cannot move forward on legislation.

“We have a very small majority, so four or five people can create a problem for the whole [caucus],” McCarthy added. “You got to be sure you come together as a family, otherwise we won’t be successful for the American people. So what it really takes is you take a step back [and ask]: ‘Who are you here for? Are you here for yourself or are you here for the American public?’ ”

Throughout Wednesday morning, the group of disrupters met and spoke with McCarthy and his team. Leadership is still 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 two people close to leadership who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


Meanwhile, other Republicans waiting to be told of what happens next were growing frustrated.

“I don’t blame the Freedom Caucus, as many of them rightfully oppose this defeatist behavior,” one moderate GOP lawmaker said. “This group is the Dysfunction Caucus.”

The surprise rebuke underscored the anger that several members of the House 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.

On Wednesday, McCarthy continued to defend his debt ceiling deal with Biden, pushing back on assertions from some GOP lawmakers that he had promised to keep federal spending at 2022 levels.

“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.”


Given that a significant swath of the far-right bloc of the GOP conference would not support the debt ceiling measure, Republicans needed the help of Democrats to pass a key procedural hurdle, known as the rule, that sets the parameters for debate before final passage. Historically, a rule vote is only passed by the majority party, including those who oppose the final bill. Almost two dozen more Democrats than Republicans also voted to pass the bill to the Senate last Wednesday evening.

In retaliation, the 11 far-right lawmakers voted against the first rule vote this week, preventing GOP leadership’s wish to pass four non-divisive bills that would have returned them to the status quo. It proved the difficulty McCarthy and other leaders now face as they work to make amends with a fractious bloc of the conference that historically bucks leadership.

Republican Representative Ken Buck, of Colorado, 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.”


House Majority Leader Steve Scalise became the 12th Republican to defect on Tuesday after he changed his vote to “no” once he and other GOP leaders failed to convince the far-right House Freedom Caucus to end their blockade before the vote was called. The move allows the GOP to revisit the vote once full support from the majority emerges again.