WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called off votes for the remainder of the week and sent lawmakers home as a revolt by Republican hard-liners halted business in the chamber for a second day.
The blockade by a band of 11 ultra-conservatives heightened tensions among Republicans following the speaker’s backing of a compromise with the White House to avert a U.S. debt default. It also showcased their capacity to grind the chamber to a halt even if holding off, for now, on a push for McCarthy’s ouster.
“There’s a little chaos going on,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday evening, shortly after a round of talks with dissidents failed to conclude a deal.
The California Republican said he would continue to speak with the hard-liners during the evening but negotiations were complicated by a lack of clarity in the goals of the protesters, who were angered by the debt deal.
“This is the difficulty,” McCarthy said. “Some of these members don’t know what to ask for.”
Tuesday marked the first time in more than two decades that a speaker had been unable to muster the votes for a procedural step to begin debate on a bill on the House floor, according to C-Span. With the 11 GOP defections, and Democrats also voting against the procedural measure to advance bills, it failed on a 206-220 vote.
McCarthy mostly projected his customary optimism, predicting that the two sides would resolve their differences soon. Yet he showed flashes of frustration during the day and admitted the protest took him by surprise.
“I feel blindsided,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday morning, after an earlier meeting with some of the dissidents.
“Five people can create problems,” he added. “You’re not going to get 100% of what you want — so you can’t take hostages.”
The narrow 222-212 House GOP majority McCarthy oversees enables as few as five Republican lawmakers to sabotage a measure on a party-line vote.
Some of the 11 conservatives who banded together to instigate the stoppage suggested they didn’t share his confidence of a quick resolution.
“There’s nothing that has been resolved as of yet,” said Rep. Tim Burchett.
Ken Buck, a conservative Colorado congressman, declined to share a full list of their grievances. But they asserted McCarthy’s debt-limit deal with President Joe Biden broke promises he made to them for lower spending caps, though McCarthy disputes that he broke any pledge.
Impatience with the protest boiled over among some Republican lawmakers on Wednesday.
“You’ve got the tail wagging the dog,” said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, complaining that “a small group of people” is “keeping the House of Representatives from functioning.”
Several of the dissident members, including Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, declined to comment on their discussions with the speaker after leaving his office Wednesday night.
“No deal,” is all Rep. Richard Hudson, also of North Carolina and chair of the House Republican campaign arm, would say.