As House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy arrived on Capitol Hill this morning, he expressed some optimism that today would be less awful for him than the past few days. “We’re going to make progress,” the Californian told reporters. He quickly added, “We’re gonna shock you.”
Asked if he would finally succeed today in the race for House speaker, McCarthy replied: “I don’t know if we get there today, but we’re going to see progress.”
Soon after, GOP lawmakers — which is to say, representatives-elect, given the fact that they haven’t been sworn in yet — met for a private conference call, the details of which leaked with incredible speed. As part of the discussion, McCarthy acknowledged the negotiations with many of his far-right detractors, but conceded an agreement is not yet in place.
“We’re in a good position and having meetings,” he told his members.
Two hours later, voting on the 12th ballot got underway — and McCarthy did, in fact, see significant progress for the first time since the process began on Tuesday. As The Washington Post summarized:
Republican Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) made significant headway on the 12th ballot for House speaker, winning over 14 hardline Republicans who had previously opposed him, but fell short of achieving a majority of votes needed to claim the position.
At this point, this is obviously a numbers game for Republican leaders. As of late yesterday, the total number of anti-McCarthy votes from the GOP conference was 20. Any number larger than four prevents him from succeeding.
And so, going into the 12th ballot, McCarthy was looking at a “phase one” strategy that flipped at least some of the 20. He did exactly that, to a surprising degree.
If my back-of-the-envelope notes are correct, the following Republicans who’d voted against McCarthy on earlier ballots flipped and voted for him on the 12th ballot: Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Michael Cloud of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Byron Donalds of Florida, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Mary Miller of Illinois, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andy Ogles of Tennessee, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Chip Roy of Texas, and Keith Self of Texas.
What’s more, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who’d voted “present” on most of the ballots, also flipped to McCarthy.
Only seven House Republicans ended up voting against McCarthy: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Eli Crane of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Andy Harris of Maryland, and Matt Rosendale of Montana.
He’ll need to flip at least three of them.
The good news for the would-be speaker is that this tally represents a dramatic shift in his direction, and it’s suddenly far easier to believe he’ll ultimately prevail. Plus, for the first time, he actually managed to get more votes than House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries.
The bad news for McCarthy is that he’s already agreed to a ridiculous series of concessions, and the remaining GOP holdouts will be incredibly difficult to win over.
Update: On the 13th ballot, McCarthy again fell short, but the number of Republican opponents narrowed from seven to six, as Harris switched his vote.
Meanwhile, two more House Republicans — Colorado's Ken Buck and Texas' Wes Hunt — have missed today's votes, but they're both expected back on Capitol Hill before the end of the day. Buck and Hunt are McCarthy supporters.
Instead of immediately moving on to a 14th ballot, the GOP majority agreed to adjourn until 10 p.m. this evening. McCarthy told reporters soon after that he expects his conference to resolve the matter "once and for all."