House Impasse Continues : The NPR Politics Podcast After more votes, the House of Representatives is no closer to electing a new Speaker. Republicans voted for other candidates as more House members offered up longshot alternatives to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

This episode: political correspondent Susan Davis, congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh, and senior political editor & correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

This episode was produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell. It was edited by Casey Morell. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Research and fact-checking by Katherine Swartz. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl.

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House Impasse Continues

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AMAN MORGAN: Hi. This is Aman Morgan (ph) in Lansing, Mich. We are walking into our first day of our internship with the Michigan House of Representatives. This podcast was recorded at...


5:47 p.m. on Thursday, January 5.

MORGAN: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. OK, here's the show.


DAVIS: Oh, nothing like young, idealistic staffers in politics.


DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: I mean, it's a good thing considering what we're going through right now, that, you know, politics is still how things get done.

DAVIS: A lot of lessons being learned this week. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: And for the third day in a row, the House of Representatives is still unable to elect a speaker. Still, 20 Republicans continue to vote for candidates other than California Republican Kevin McCarthy, which is exactly what they did earlier today in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th rounds of balloting. Still, McCarthy insists he will not step aside.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think we're having good discussions, and I think everybody wants to find a solution. And the good thing about it is we work this all out at the beginning, so the rest of the Congress will be very productive for the American public.

DAVIS: Still, his opponents are dug in against him. Here's Lauren Boebert of Colorado.


LAUREN BOEBERT: It is not happening. And as it's been said, we need to get to a point where we start evaluating what life after Kevin McCarthy looks like.

DAVIS: Deirdre, McCarthy appears to be trying everything within his power to win the gavel. He's made a number of new concessions to his detractors. How far is he willing to go?

WALSH: Pretty far - I mean, he's been giving in to demand after demand. There is talk about changing the rule that would allow just one lawmaker to offer a resolution to essentially remove the speaker. Right now, the rule - the House Republican rule would be there needs to be five sponsors of that kind of resolution. It would just be one under a potential agreement they're talking about. There is talk about guaranteeing a certain number of members of the Freedom Caucus to be on key committees. That would sort of certainly change the sort of ideological makeup of the committees and would certainly change the debate inside a lot of these key committees, like spending panels, like the appropriations committees, the rules committee, which is - governs sort of how they set up the debate on the House floor for every bill that comes up. There's also talk about requiring, you know, standalone votes on every single spending bill, requiring floor amendment votes, having votes on single-issue bills so that you don't have these gigantic packages with all kinds of issues wrapped into them that members complain they don't have time to read or have a lot of sort of, you know, non-germane issues in them. But it's just a variety of issues. Some of the things like allowing amendment votes are sort of broadly supported by House Republicans. Others really weaken the power of the speaker's office and actually give more power to this sort of small group within the House Republican conference.

DAVIS: Domenico, another somewhat - I think it's fair to call it a concession - happened late last night when the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is a outside super PAC, but it's very closely aligned with Kevin McCarthy, put out a public statement essentially saying that they pledge not to get involved in open primaries in the next election - open primaries being where no incumbent is running. Deirdre mentioned that he's sort of ceding the powers of the speakership, but there also seems to be an effort to cede the political power of leadership as well.

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, a lot of what's going on here is you have, you know, this hard-right faction that really doesn't have the power to affect the kind of changes that they want in the normal course of seniority and things like that. Like, they don't like how things are run. They don't like the fact that the rules committee can have - can make its rules. The rules committee is picked by leadership. Leadership winds up putting what legislation it wants forward. And they just get to vote yes or no, which is what we've heard time and again. That's the way it works for, you know, most members of Congress who don't have a lot of seniority or experience. And part of how you get more numbers is to be able to win in primaries, especially in some of those very safe or red districts where they can get more numbers of the kinds of members that they want that they feel ideologically align with them. It's something that's been a bit of a subtext here. I heard before these votes had started, Congressman Bob Good from Virginia - this was one of the things he'd been talking about while most are just continuing to talk about, you know, fiscal responsibility or amendments and things like that.

DAVIS: Deirdre, in the course of the last months, weeks and days, Kevin McCarthy has slowly but methodically agreed to things that would fundamentally make him a weaker speaker than his recent predecessors. And yet, not a single vote has budged. I don't even know if it's fair to call this a negotiation at this point. Are - what is the conversation happening at this point on Capitol Hill?

WALSH: I mean, there's a lot of frustration from McCarthy's allies. I think they are frustrated that he's being forced into a corner. They don't think a lot of these talks are kind of good faith at this point, but they sort of have turned a little bit more towards specifics. So I think maybe we are in an actual negotiation because before, there was just, like, all these ideas and not a lot of, like, here's what I really need. But I think they've actually been in a room late last night, kind of on and off all day today. So I think some of these, you know, arcane things about amendments and committee slots and, you know, how bills come up are starting to force people to potentially move to maybe get to a place. But the problem is, as you said, on the floor, the public face that everyone's seeing, day after day, ballot after ballot is nothing is changing. So it's sort of hard to almost take McCarthy's sunny, optimistic tone every day of, like - we're going to get there - at face value because the numbers aren't changing.

DAVIS: Let's take a quick break and more on this in a second.

And we're back. And, Deirdre, you know, one of the unexpected subplots of the speaker drama that has played out on the floor is how race has come into play. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries - he's a Democrat - he was the first Black person in history to be nominated for speaker, right? This was on the first day, on January 3. The next day - and we talked a little bit about this yesterday in the podcast - McCarthy's detractors nominated a Black Republican, Byron Donalds of Florida, saying in part that now there was two Black lawmakers nominated for speaker and that was history making. Then today, McCarthy's allies tapped another Black lawmaker, freshman John James of Michigan, to nominate McCarthy again for the job. All of these lawmakers invoking Frederick Douglass, civil rights leaders, you know - and, Deirdre, it's unexpected to me because in all of the fighting and drama and talk about who would be speaker, race had not been part of this conversation until yesterday.

WALSH: No, it hasn't. And, you know, I think House Democrats, for their part, just keep reiterating the fact that they have elected the first Black leader of either party to lead their party, Hakeem Jeffries. And when there was this argument for Donalds that he could be the first Black speaker of the House, the entire side of the House Democratic floor got up and started chanting, Hakeem, Hakeem, essentially sort of mocking them because Jeffries has been getting consistently more votes than McCarthy on ballot after ballot. So, you know, I do think that it's been kind of an unexpected turn. McCarthy and James, during his discussion, and another member, Juan Ciscomani, a Latino congressman-elect from Arizona, have talked about how this class of Republicans has been the most diverse they've elected.

DAVIS: It's true, too.

WALSH: And McCarthy and his political allies have been stressing this whole cycle - and, Sue, you know this because you've been doing a lot of reporting on this - about how specifically they've been recruiting a class of women, veterans, minorities to represent districts from across the country.

DAVIS: Yeah, it just felt so tonally off to me because race - it's not as if the McCarthy detractors had made diversity or race part of their argument against McCarthy. It seemed to be a political move to go against Democrats, to sort of prove that they also have diversity in their ranks, which is like, OK, fine, but not the point of the fight at hand. And it did seem to muddy the waters a bit, which James did point to and is correct that - I think the House Republican conference in this Congress is probably the most diverse ever and in part because of the candidates and the support of people that McCarthy endorsed and helped get elected.

MONTANARO: Well, listen, there are Black Republicans, right? I mean...

DAVIS: Sure.

MONTANARO: ...There are four of them who are in the House currently. That's the most ever for Republicans. There are a whole lot more Black Democrats in Congress. There's a reason why 85-plus percent of Black voters have voted Democratic in presidential elections year after year after year. You know, there's a real policy divide between how the Republican Party and the Democratic Party approach issues of race. And there's a reason why, you know, this has become such a touchstone issue and has become one over and over again. The criticism from a lot of people on the Democratic side of the aisle toward Republicans in particular is that Republicans seem to try to mask some of the policies that, you know, Democrats will say limits, you know, rights like voting rights and things like that - that, you know, Republicans, they'll say, trying to mask those kinds of policies by putting out people who happen to be Black. And this is a big issue, a big thing that gets talked about and a big thing that's being talked about on the Hill and among a lot of people, especially Black Democrats, who've been there a while.

DAVIS: Deirdre, one thing that I think there is growing and broader agreement on right now in the House is that the longer this goes on, the inability to do their jobs and the function of government does really start to have an impact.

WALSH: Right. And lawmakers are openly starting to worry about it. There are several House Republicans that came out last night and said, you know, they lost their security clearances because they haven't been sworn in yet. They've had to cancel briefings with top administration officials on sensitive things like what's happening with China. There are some lawmakers who have been told that federal agencies can't take up their constituent requests for things like disability claims with the VA, with passport or visa issues, kinds of, like, run-of-the-mill constituent services that they have a team of staffers who are assigned to deal with, and they're not really all in place. There's also an issue of committee staffers are going to stop getting paid starting next week because there aren't committee rules in place to process the payroll.

DAVIS: Oh. Because there's really technically no House yet.

WALSH: Right. I mean, personal offices - I've been told by members personal offices for individual members, they can pay their aides. But it's the professional committee staffers who do a lot of the really important work who just, you know, aren't officially approved as employees, evidently, or are for a short period of time in the next paycheck, can't get approved yet.

MONTANARO: And then there is this issue of national security where, you know, a lot of members of Congress starting to raise the fact that they can't be briefed by various agencies.

DAVIS: All right, Deirdre, you're still in the Capitol. The House, we should note, is still in session. It is possible there is even more votes this evening. What are you watching for just in terms of next steps?

DAVIS: I'm actually watching more about what's happening off the floor than in the House chamber. There could still be more votes. But the real action, I think, is in these negotiations in conference rooms around the Capitol with McCarthy, his allies and this group of 20. I think they're - not all 20 are in the room. I think there's a couple that McCarthy's not going to ever be able to get to vote for him. But I do think that they could be ironing out some more details. So we'll just see whether that plays out and whether they're ready to say yes and move the needle. Or if those talks break down, we could - this could be going on beyond the weekend and next week.

DAVIS: All right. Well, we're going to end it there because you need to get downstairs and go stand in those hallways so you can come back on this podcast and tell us how it's all going to shake out. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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