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McCarthy Appears To Suffer Defeat On 5th Speaker Ballot; 6th Speaker Vote Expected As McCarthy's Path Remains Uncertain. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired January 04, 2023 - 15:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN's live special coverage. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington where if you believe in functioning government, it is a frustrating day.

United States House of Representatives remains speakerless, without speaker. (Inaudible) speaker, Kevin McCarthy failing again on a fifth ballot to capture the necessary number of votes, the number of opponents among House Republicans has actually gone up from 19 to 20 to 21.

And now Republicans are looking for a way out, an exit strategy. Is that tossing McCarthy to the curb? Is it brokering a deal with Democrats to lower the vote threshold? Is there some way to get these 20 rebels on board?

CNN's Melanie Zanona is reporting this out for us. Melanie, Republicans are now talking to Democrats? What's happening here?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, I think it really speaks to just how desperate they are right now. Republicans are really searching for an off ramp as it's becoming clear that Kevin McCarthy's efforts to win over his opposition is just not working. I am told that Republicans have begun to approach Democrats on the House floor and try to feel them out and see what would it take for you to either vote present or not show up.

Now, we're told that these are very informal conversations. It's still early. Democrats also insist that they wouldn't bail out McCarthy but that they would perhaps be willing to talk about something like a consensus candidate. We'll have to wait and see. But just the fact that the Republicans are even thinking about going that route really speaks to the moment, it is a far-fetched idea.

And GOP leadership at this point, Jake, is not involved. I do know of one lawmaker, a Republican lawmaker, who did go up to McCarthy on the floor and float this idea. I talked to another Republican who said they're going to give it another week before they try to encourage McCarthy to look at other options here.

And all of this is also coming as I'm learning about one of the demands that one of these critics made of Kevin McCarthy Monday night, Matt Gaetz, he was in McCarthy's office for a brief meeting on Monday. I am told that one of the asks that he made was a subcommittee gavel on the powerful House Armed Services Committee.

McCarthy flatly rejected it and when other members learned of this the next day, they were furious, because they said this shows that some of - at least some of these critics are just trying to get things for them personally, and that this isn't about some big procedural stand, as some of them are making it out to be.

And so you just get a sense of where things are right now, Jake.

TAPPER: It's interesting, Melanie, because McCarthy was trying to make that point yesterday before the voting began saying that Matt Gaetz and others were demanding things for themselves. This wasn't about principle. This wasn't about a more open House legislative process. But despite Matt Gaetz only going to the floor with five total rebels, he ended up with 19, so that argument did not dissuade enough people.

ZANONA: No. And some said that conference meeting where McCarthy made that pitch actually backfired and made people even more entrenched. But I will tell you, Jake, that especially among McCarthy's allies right now, they're really trying to suss out of those 20 people who is gettable, who was negotiated in good in good faith, who can we pick off or at least get them to vote present versus who are those like Matt Gaetz, for example, who are just never going to vote for Kevin McCarthy and keep moving the goalposts.

So that's what they're trying to figure out there. And once they get a better sense of who's in that camp, they can really start to try to negotiate and figure out a path forward, but it's just really, really unclear still at this moment, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melanie Zanona, thanks so much.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill for us. And Manu, you have some new reporting about what's next.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right now there are discussions about setting up a new negotiating group to try to break the stalemate. Now, I am told that McCarthy emissaries, people that are close to the Republican leader are in discussions with the detractors, some of those 20 opponents, to try to figure out which members could sit down behind closed doors and try to negotiate a way out of this.

At the moment, they're still trying to hash out exactly which members will be in that room. But members who are very close to McCarthy and members who represent this bloc of members to try to figure out whether or not there is any sort of resolution here, what do those detractors want, whether or not the McCarthy allies will agree to that and if they do come to some sort of consensus, take that to the rest of the Republican conference to see if they can sign off on that.

Now, on your screen there you see two members there, Ken Buck and Matt Gaetz. Ken Buck, one who was considering voting against Kevin McCarthy, I'm told, but was urged by the Republican leadership to stick with McCarthy. He's indicating for now he's sticking with them. Matt Gaetz, one of those key detractors, of course, unlikely that he will ultimately come to Kevin McCarthy's side, but others within that 20 group bloc are still - McCarthy team believes gettable.

And the expectation is that after the next vote, we expect to go to a sixth speaker ballot vote. They will try to adjourn the House and then try to move into that negotiating session among those members.


But in order to adjourn the House, they still need to have 218 votes to do that. That means, if not all Republicans agree, they would need Democratic support to adjourn the House. Democrats have not yet been willing to do that. We'll see if that changes after the sixth ballot.

But at the moment, discussions right now about setting up some sort of group to try to horse trade, trying to figure out a way out of the standoff that's not - that doesn't appear to be resolved after the second day here, Jake.

TAPPER: And right now we're looking at the - on the House floor. You see to the left there Congressman Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, to the right there, Congressman Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, one of the rebels.

Buck told CNN just a few minutes ago that it may be time for Kevin McCarthy to stop putting his name in nomination for Speaker of the House. It might be time to find - try to find a consensus candidate other than him. He mentioned Steve Scalise. I don't know if that is what he and Matt Gaetz are discussing right now. But certainly, there was a big effort on the floor of the House to find a way past this impasse. Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Let's go to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Phil, President Biden today called this display embarrassing.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think it's a window into what people familiar with how the President has responded to the events of the last 48 hours and said that he has that found a lot of amusement in what has transpired.

Certainly, there are advisors inside the White House, aides inside the White House who have looked at this with a level of schadenfreude and some amusement as well. The President is not one of those individuals, while White House officials were keenly aware of kind of the figurative opportunity for a split screen, when the President arrived in Kentucky with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to talk about one of his bipartisan achievements of his first two years.

They certainly didn't expect a literal one. You could see it on our air, the chaos on the House floor as the President stood with Leader McConnell talking about the $2 billion going to the Brent Spence Bridge. And while they certainly liked that contrast, they didn't expect it to be just as dramatic as it is, as we are now in our second day here. And the President was very blunt when he was asked about this by reporters. He said no, he did not enjoy what he was seeing, despite it coming from some of his fiercest critics. In fact, he was embarrassed, take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's embarrassing for the country. I mean, literally. Now, I'm not making a part of this reality is, that to be able to have a Congress that can't function is just embarrassing. We're the greatest nation in the world. How can that be?


MATTINGLY: And Jake, to give you a sense of things, one person I spoke to who's spoken to the President said, look, you have to view this through the lens of the President, a 36-year veteran of the Senate. He said, "He's an institutionalist at his core."

You can't be an institutionalist and root for chaos like this. For a president that is very cognizant of how the U.S. is viewed around the world, particularly in the wake of the last several years, this is certainly not something he wants to see even if it underscores just how chaotic the House Republican majority may be.

TAPPER: Well, it is democracy. I mean, at least they're not storming it with tiki torches. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

MATTINGLY: Low bar (ph).

TAPPER: We're joined by an ally of Kevin McCarthy right now. Former Republican congressman, Rodney Davis of Illinois.

Congressman, what do you think is going to happen here? It sounds like they're going to have a sixth vote and then vote to adjourn. Do you think McCarthy is going to continue to shed votes?

RODNEY DAVIS, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's very interesting right now that he did not roll right into a sixth vote. They're doing somewhat of a conference meeting on the House floor without having to do the motion to adjourn.

I think if they go right into this sixth vote, the key vote you want to look at is Ken Buck. Is Ken Buck going to stick with Kevin McCarthy on this sixth vote or live up to what he said just a few minutes ago on air with you and vote for someone else.

If he votes for someone else, then I would expect a motion to adjourn and I would expect Republicans to sit down and talk about these things. It's interesting that you're starting to see the conversation that played out on the House floor come to fruition.

And when you looked at some of the conversations that were happening in the background, just now on the House floor, yes, McCarthy allies like Gary Palmer who are talking to those who voted no. What are they talking about: I would suggest they're talking about what do you need? What type of rules change do you need to make sure you can get to yes? This is the last effort and I think every McCarthy ally knows it's very important.

But here's the key, Jake, the key is Ken Buck doesn't speak for a majority of those 200 Republicans who were sticking by Kevin McCarthy and are they willing to stick it out even if you lose Ken Buck and maybe a few others.

TAPPER: That is the big question, Congressman Davis, thank you so much.

DAVIS: Thanks.

TAPPER: And let me just turn and just say like, I know to viewers out there this probably seems like chaotic and insane, but, A, this is democracy. I mean, we can't pretend that this is - I mean, I think Congressman Gallagher was right earlier today who said this is messy and democracy is messy.


It's a feature not a bug. That's true. These people are exercising their right to do that. And a lot of them - I don't know all of them - but a lot of the 20 rebels are voting the way they're voting because they actually want substantive changes to the rules.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that is really an open question.

TAPPER: And you disagree with me on it? Okay.

PHILLIP: No, no, no, no, I actually think that, first of all, there's some portion of them. I just think we don't know how many of them actually want substantive rules and that matters if you're Kevin McCarthy. Maybe the number who wants substantive changes is like six or seven, that's not enough to get him there.

So the number really matters a lot. But it's interesting to me, because we just talked to Congresswoman Spartz, we just talked to Ken Buck, both of them think that negotiation is a path forward. So those members who are in the chamber right now still think that there is a way to have a conversation that moves this forward and that it's not just fully personality.

I think for at least four members, their heart knows, Kevin McCarthy is never going to get them. But we still don't know what the other number is. That's hugely important in this moment. Even Byron Donalds who started out in the McCarthy camp is now entertaining something that I think a lot of members, I would say the vast majority of members, that was crazy, which is going back to a one person motion to vacate. He's talking about that now too.

So I think a lot of members are actually coming back to this idea that maybe negotiation is a path forward. I just think that none of them still to this - as we sit here now - know how many members negotiation will actually mean. JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to push back on that a little bit. They came on TV and said that. They also know that Kevin McCarthy and his allies are seeing them say that. Kevin McCarthy has had weeks to wrap this up.

TAPPER: Years.


GANGEL: I do not think there is going to be some 11th hour miracle. Right now, I think there are five firm nos ...


GANGEL: ... and he can't get there with five firm nos.

I think today with Ken Buck, we saw the beginning of the end of Kevin McCarthy. And that what he is saying publicly to you, Jake, is what others are saying privately. And the question now is how much time does Kevin McCarthy have?

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right. Well, and I think that that's why - and Rodney Davis alluded to this just a second ago and talking to you, Jake - why we're seeing this kind of strange moment on the floor right now where they haven't rolled yet straight into this six ballot.

I think there's a realization among McCarthy supporters that if they get started, if the ball rolls on this - I mean, Ken Buck is pretty close to the beginning of the alphabet. He's going to have an early chance to signal what he intends to do and Davis said earlier, that while - and again, he repeated, Buck may not speak for a huge majority of the conference, but he may not be just speaking for himself, right.

And so if they allow this vote to go forward without trying to figure out something behind the scenes, which is clearly what's going on here, that could put McCarthy in an even more tenuous position and really (inaudible) ...

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But, Jake, your point is right in the sense of what they want to see is a weakened speaker.

TAPPER: Right.

COLLINS: Like whoever is going to be speaker, it's not going to be the speaker that we've seen in years past.

TAPPER: Right.

COLLINS: Even people who are voting for McCarthy like Brian Mast who spoke with this morning, who said he is committed to voting for him. That's what they want to see because they want to feel like everyone's voice is heard. And you're seeing the energy that - and the momentum behind this group of 20 that's not voting for Kevin McCarthy right now. They're using that to their advantage to get what they want. So I do think there's a point there of what the speakership is actually going to look like, whether it's Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise or God knows who.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reality here, though, is that if that's the case, right, if they really weaken the speaker in this situation, they're honestly handing more keys to Democrats.

TAPPER: Hold on.

COLLINS: They did. Brian Mast said that this morning.

TAPPER: It seems as though the clerk is trying to get the attention of the unruly members of the House of Representatives, 434 of them. Although they're, obviously, not all there right now. It looks like there will be a sixth vote.

CHERYL JOHNSON, HOUSE CLERK: Will the House be in order?

TAPPER: And the point you made, Kaitlan Collins, is an important one. They want a weaker speaker. Why do they want a weaker speaker? Because that makes each individual member of Congress stronger. It's not that they - it's not that they're interested in the speaker being weaker. It's - they're interested in each individual one of themselves having more power and ability to change things

JOHNSON: Will the House be in order?

COLLINS: And to what Kasie said about, it would give keys to Democrats. Yes, but this is a Republican group that has spent several years in the minority and they know what it's like to have literally nothing and so they know that could also happen to them again soon. So yes, it is about being able to have more of a voice and not have one person have this iron grip on the conference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I think it also goes back to the point, Jake, that we've made over and over again here which is that, it's really about this group of narrowing personal interests, right?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, their own personal public brands that they now can ...

TAPPER: Let's listen in, we'll come right back to you. This is the fifth official results.

JOHNSON: The Honorable Kevin McCarthy of the State of California has received 201. The Honorable Byron Donalds of the State of Florida has received 20. With one recorded as present, no member elect having received a majority of the votes cast, a speaker has not been elected.

For what purpose does the gentlewoman from Florida rise?

REP. KAT CAMMACK (R-FL): Thank you, Madam Clerk. I rise today to nominate Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the People's House.

JOHNSON: The gentlewoman is recognized?

CAMMACK: My colleagues, well, it's Groundhog Day. Again, and if it's all right with you ...

JOHNSON: Will the gentlewoman yield?

CAMMACK: ... I would like to.

JOHNSON: Will the House be in order?

CAMMACK: Thank you, Madam Clerk.

If it's all right with you all, I would like to address not you, but the American people, because quite frankly, they are - well, we don't have a speaker yet, so - the American people, well, they are our boss and we work for them.

Yesterday, as we were here on the House floor, our constituents from all around the country made their voices heard. Today, the calls, the text messages, emails, they all continue. People are letting their voice be heard and that is a very, very good thing.

Because that is what we are, after all, a constitutional republic. This serves all Americans, not just a select few. To all Americans watching right now, I want to tell you that we hear you. We hear you. And we will get this right. No matter how messy this process is, we will emerge better for having been through this, because nothing great ever comes easy.

For the last several months, negotiations have gone back and forth over a rules package to make this chamber, your chamber, a better place to deliver better results for you, the American people. And I want to remind everyone watching, listening here in this chamber, that this chamber and this body, our country, we are bigger than a single person or a single moment in time. We are a nation collectively of great people, great patriots and great moments of courage.

The rules package that has been highlighted by so many of my colleagues dictates how this chamber functions, how bills come to the floor, how much time we get to read these bills, whether or not we will get single issue bills and whether or not we can vote proxy.

And as you have witnessed from events yesterday, so many people have said what are the next steps? What will we accomplish if we continue down this current path? Well, we wake up tomorrow and be in this exact same place. The people calling my office said over and over and over again, it is time to get to work. Anything less is unacceptable.

And as we stood on this House floor yesterday and again today, over 200 people were poisoned from fentanyl. Fentanyl that came from an open border because of the Biden open border policy. Over 5,000 people were encountered at the border because of Biden's open border policies. These are the issues that people care about. They don't sit around their kitchen tables at night saying, I wonder who's going to be speaker. No, they elect people to come here to do the things that matter. The issues that impact them every single day and in an era of uncertainty, the last thing they need is uncertainty within this chamber. We were elected to be the voice of our constituents.


We are their voice in this chamber. And they didn't send us to be perpetual critics. They sent us to get things done.

And as we all know, because after all we are in politics, the line of critics is always long. But the list of those that are actually rolling up their sleeves and doing the difficult job of leading, of uniting, of delivering results, especially in a chamber like this. Well, that list is very short.

Kevin McCarthy has proved that he can get things done. He has proven that he is willing to stand up in the face of critics and not only prove them wrong, but work with them. The only thing sovereign in this republic are its people, and they have deemed it right to place a check on the Biden administration and put our party, the Republican Party in control of this chamber.

Now is the time that we take control. I understand a lack of trust among some of our colleagues, I do.


JOHNSON: Will the House be in order?

CAMMACK: I understand the lack of trust amongst some of our colleagues. But what I am asking, what I am asking is that we all trust the American people who sent our colleagues here. This House is the only part of the federal government that stands for election every two years. Therefore, this chamber is an instrument of the people's will, and the people have overwhelmingly voted for Kevin McCarthy.

If we continue down this road, if we continue with the actions of yesterday and today, we stifle the will of the American people. The changes to the rules of this place and how it functions have been overwhelmingly positive in the last few weeks. Legislation stands ready. It is time to unite, roll up our sleeves and get to work doing the people's business.

Gentleman, my friend, Kevin McCarthy from California has done more than anyone in this chamber to secure a Republican majority. Many of the people who are members here today are quite frankly here because of his leadership, because they have trusted him and he has gone out of his way to make sure that every single one of us has had a voice at the table.

Furthermore, every single returning Republican in this chamber who cast a vote two years ago in the last Congress voted for Kevin McCarthy as our leader. We were united then. And we must unify now. That's the only way to start the people's business. The very reason that we're all here, it's to unify and get to work. Because we must commit to unity instead of division because we owe it to the American people who sent us here. We must choose to lead in the face of a liberal Senate and Obama's JV team in the White House. We owe it to the American people.

The American people sent a conservative majority to govern this body, but we cannot even begin to govern because heck we can even swear in as members of Congress. I've traveled the country for the last two years as the youngest Republican woman in the 117th Congress helping to secure a majority of members who are on both sides of today's Republican vote.

Diversity of thought is a good thing. It's one of the things that sets us apart from our friends on the other side of the aisle. Yes, diversity of thought is a good thing. But they want us divided. They want us to fight each other. That much has been made clear by the popcorn and blankets and alcohol that is coming over there.

House is not in order.

The House is not in order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get some order (inaudible) ...

JOHNSON: The clerk would ask all members-elect to abide by the established decorum of the House while making nominations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlewoman is recognized.

JOHNSON: Gentlewoman is recognized.


CAMMACK: As evidenced by my colleagues' actions - so today I am asking my friends and colleagues, are we the party of Reagan Republicans? Reagan who said someone who is with me 80 percent of the time is a loyal and good friend, not a 20 percent traitor. Are we the party of Reagan? That is the question that I ask you to answer. As we embark on this next ballot.

It's upon us to remain a nation of equal opportunity, not equal outcome. That is what is on the line here today and that is why I'm nominating Kevin McCarthy and I humbly ask for your support. Madam Clerk, I yield back.

JOHNSON: For what purpose does the gentleman from California rise?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Madam Clerk, I rise to nominate Hakeem Jeffries as Speaker of the House, the lead vote getter in the final in the last five rounds.

JOHNSON: The gentleman is recognized.

AGUILAR: Madam Clerk, Democrats are united behind a speaker who will build safer communities. He's a leader in gun violence prevention. He has worked to make our criminal justice system more fair, more equitable and more effective and he's done it working with both sides of the aisle. A leader who has a track record of actually getting things done and he understands that public safety, public health and economic opportunity must go hand in hand.

That's why at the direction of the Democratic Caucus, I advanced the name of Hakeem Jeffries from Brooklyn, New York is our next speaker for the 118th Congress.

JOHNSON: For what purpose does the gentleman from Pennsylvania rise?

REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA): Madam Speaker, to nominate the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Donalds.

JOHNSON: The gentleman is recognized.


Ladies and gentlemen, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, no matter what your political persuasion, one thing is universally recognized across this country, Washington is broken. Washington is completely broken, whether it's a wide open border, millions of people streaming across terrorists, criminals, fentanyl coming right to your community, not at the border but into your community. Overdoses happening in your towns, funerals happening in your town, because the border is open, because this place is broken.

Twelve days ago, in the middle of the night, 4,000 pages showed up over here, six and a half or 2.7 - 1.7, sorry, $1.7 trillion dollars in spending, 7,200 earmarks, 24 hours time to read it like a Christmas tree right before Christmas, that nobody outside of this town wanted.

If you've been here for one year, you voted on that once. If you've been here for three years, you voted on the same thing three times. If you've been here for 10 years, you voted on it 10 times, Washington is broken. We got crime running across the streets, no matter what community you're in, because now this town has decided that somehow the criminals aren't understood and we've abandoned the victims. This is what people in our country are dealing with.

We are funding wars in other countries, while we're destroying our own military because this town is broken. We have an administration that has contempt for the American people and is using these big corporations to spy on Americans and using the instruments of federal power to persecute and prosecute them because this town is broken. And this place is literally broken. There hasn't been an amendment on the floor for six years in this town.

So if you're not on the committee of jurisdiction, but it affects your citizens, well, too bad for you. You just vote yes or you just vote no. That's not how this place was designed to be. We vote on bills that have all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the bill itself.


Everybody came here because they said to their constituents, this town is broken and I want to fix it.