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McCarthy's Speaker Bid in Peril as House Adjourns Without Electing One

Kevin McCarthy
Photo by Craig Hudson/Sipa/AP

The fight over the next speaker has thrown the new House GOP majority into chaos.

(CNN) -- Kevin McCarthy suffered yet another stinging defeat on Wednesday as he lost in the sixth round of voting to elect a speaker -- a major blow that increasingly imperils his bid and heightens uncertainty over whether he can still secure the gavel or if a viable candidate will emerge as an alternative.

The House of Representatives has adjourned until 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday after failing to elect a new speaker.

House Republicans are at a contentious stalemate over who will serve as the next speaker amid what appears to be hardened opposition to McCarthy from a group of conservatives. The fight, which began on the first day of the 118th Congress, has thrown the new House GOP majority into chaos and undercut the party's agenda.

The House convened at noon ET on Wednesday after three rounds of votes on Tuesday. McCarthy has come up short each time, failing to hit the majority threshold needed to secure the speakership. The House adjourned in the early evening Tuesday after the vote series stretched on for hours with no resolution in sight.

Now, Republicans are scrambling to find a path forward. McCarthy's allies say he's not dropping out and is still prepared to grind this out.

Talks continued Tuesday evening, with McCarthy in his office making calls, sources said. He also has dispatched several emissaries -- Brian Fitzpatrick, Garret Graves, French Hill, Patrick McHenry and Guy Reschenthaler -- to help find a deal with his foes and present their demands to the rest of the House GOP conference.

The House will continue to be paralyzed until this standoff is resolved. And Republican allies of McCarthy are beginning to fear that the House GOP leader may not be able to pull off his gamble for speaker if the fight goes much longer. While McCarthy has firm support among most of the conference, some are not committed to sticking with him.

Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, who has voted for McCarthy, says "at some point," he needs to step aside and let Steve Scalise run.

"But what I've asked is that if Kevin can't get there, that he step aside and give Steve a chance to do it," Buck told CNN.

Separately, one member who has been backing McCarthy told CNN that if McCarthy can't get the votes for speaker there is growing fear he'll be too weakened to do anything to legislate, making it possible that another candidate may need to come forward.

"He probably has another 24 hours to get an agreement. If he can't negotiate to get an agreement on speaker it means he won't be able to negotiate and get to 218 on anything controversial," the member said, referring to the votes McCarthy needs if no member skips the vote or votes "present." "Maybe nobody else can either, but he certainly can't."

The same member said a statement made by former President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning that reaffirmed his support for McCarthy and urged Republicans to back him was basically a wash -- while it was more helpful than if he had blasted McCarthy, it wasn't expected to move the needle.

Another member warned that after Tuesday, it's clear that the opposition to McCarthy is personal -- meaning there may be little that he can do to turn the tide at this point.

Asked if the Trump statement could be a difference-maker, the person conceded they were doubtful.

Uncertainty over path forward

House Republicans hold 222 seats in the new Congress, so for McCarthy to reach 218, he can only afford to lose four GOP votes. His obstacle is that he faces a small but determined contingent of hardline conservatives who have so far been successful in denying him the votes to secure the gavel.

The group has used the leverage they have in the razor-thin Republican majority to extract concessions. McCarthy has already given in to a number of their demands, including making it easier to topple the sitting speaker, but so far his efforts have not been enough, and

As the votes stretched on Tuesday, the situation appeared to become even more dire for McCarthy, as the vote count in opposition to his speaker bid grew.

The tally for the first ballot in the speaker vote was 203 for McCarthy, with 19 Republicans voting for other candidates. The tally for the second ballot was 203 votes for McCarthy with 19 votes for GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. In the third round of voting, there were 202 votes for McCarthy and 20 votes for Jordan, with Rep. Byron Donalds joining the 19 GOP lawmakers who had voted against McCarthy in the first two rounds.

It was the first time an election for speaker went to multiple ballots since 1923.

"My vote yesterday was basically to break a deadlock, because we were deadlocked, and we were not getting anywhere," Donalds, a Florida Republican, said Wednesday on "CNN This Morning." "Right now, (McCarthy) doesn't have a pathway to get there. If that reemerges, yeah, I can be there, that's fine, but what's necessary now is that Republicans come together and find a way to elect a speaker."

In the fourth round of voting, 20 Republicans voting together for Donalds as the group switched their collective support from Jordan to Donalds. Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana voted present, lowering McCarthy's threshold to 217.

Spartz told CNN she did so because she wanted to allow for more negotiations within the conference to address the concerns of the 20 members.

The final tally for the fifth vote was again 201 votes for McCarthy, 20 for Donalds and one present vote.

Trump watching closely

Trump is watching closely as the dynamic plays out on Capitol Hill and his public support has been a key focus of McCarthy's efforts.

Two GOP sources familiar with the matter said McCarthy's allies were panicking on Tuesday after the former president gave a tepid response to NBC News when asked about his support for McCarthy. The former president also declined to issue a statement Monday reiterating his endorsement of McCarthy despite a behind-the-scenes effort from several McCarthy allies to get Trump to do so, two sources said.

One close McCarthy ally then began working behind the scenes to do clean-up duty and started pressing for Trump to put out a statement clarifying his support. McCarthy and Trump then connected by phone, where McCarthy said Trump expressed he was still committed to backing him. Trump put out a strong endorsement on Truth Social Wednesday morning, imploring Republicans not to "TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT" and urging them to vote for McCarthy.

Although Trump's statement might not move the needle among the fiercest McCarthy foes, one of the sources said McCarthy world was worried about looking "weak" and like he was bleeding support, so they felt it was important to reverse the narrative.

Gaetz, one of the House Republicans opposing McCarthy's bid for speaker, dismissed Trump's latest effort to help the California Republican as "sad."

"This changes neither my view of McCarthy nor Trump nor my vote," Gaetz said in a statement to Fox News Digital on Wednesday, shortly after Trump came to McCarthy's defense in the Truth Social post.

Long a staunch Trump ally, Gaetz's refusal to bow to Trump's desire for a McCarthy speakership raises new questions about the former president's dwindling influence over Republicans in the midst of his third presidential campaign.

"If Matt Gaetz is ignoring you, that's not a good sign," said one Trump ally who is involved with his 2024 campaign.

Trump has been making calls on McCarthy's behalf over the last 24 hours in an attempt to break the conservative blockade against him, this person said, but his efforts have so far been fruitless.

One lawmaker who spoke with Trump late Tuesday suggested the former president should run for speaker himself, according to a person briefed on the call. Trump demurred and continued to push this person to support McCarthy, claiming that he would be a solid "America First" supporter.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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Related: Historic Failure: GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy Loses 1st Speaker Vote

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