Opponents of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the House speakership are digging in after a tense discussion on the House floor between Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
The pair’s conspicuous exchange in the back of the chamber on the first day of the 118th Congress was caught on C-SPAN — and noted by many members in the building. Thanks to Gaetz and his far-right allies, McCarthy, a California Republican, failed to win the speakership on the first round of voting.
Gaetz told Ocasio-Cortez that McCarthy has been telling Republicans that he’ll be able to cut a deal with Democrats to vote present, enabling him to win a majority of those present and voting, according to Ocasio-Cortez. She told Gaetz that wasn’t happening, and also double-checked with Democratic party leadership, confirming there’d be no side deal.
What happened here? Can anyone read lips? pic.twitter.com/r7PR3Srcyg— MeidasTouch (@MeidasTouch) January 3, 2023
“McCarthy was suggesting he could get Dems to walk away to lower his threshold,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept of her conversation with Gaetz on McCarthy’s failed ploy. “And I fact checked and said absolutely not.”
Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York won all 212 of his party’s votes, a show of unity that, if it holds, requires McCarthy to win over all but four of his colleagues.
Gaetz, who has shown a willingness to break with the GOP establishment, said that his crew of McCarthy opponents was dug in and would continue to resist him, adding that McCarthy has been threatening opponents with loss of committee assignments. A private gathering of Republicans ahead of the vote had been heated, multiple sources said. (Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
McCarthy and Gaetz presented their positions in dueling press conferences Tuesday morning. McCarthy said that Gaetz and his allies had requested plum committee assignments in exchange for supporting his speaker bid. McCarthy also accused Gaetz of telling Republican members that he was willing to elect Jeffries as speaker rather than accede to McCarthy. Gaetz told reporters that he and his allies didn’t trust McCarthy.
Ahead of the second round of voting, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who won six votes for speaker in the first round, nominated McCarthy again. Then Gaetz rose and nominated Jordan. All 19 McCarthy opponents voted for Jordan in the second round, leaving McCarthy again at 203 votes — 15 short of what he needed.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. another McCarthy opponent, also huddled with Ocasio-Cortez in the chamber, where they discussed the possibility of adjourning the House. (Gosar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
In the first round, McCarthy won just 203 votes, losing 19 of his colleagues. McCarthy has been insistent on remaining in session, as have his opponents. Adjourning without choosing a speaker would be embarrassing to Republicans but might also give time for McCarthy to break the opposition one by one.
Ocasio-Cortez was noncommittal on the tack, as an adjournment strategy would require party leadership.