Two years to the day after the Jan. 6 insurrection, the House is mired in a different breed of crisis over the speakership — one with a direct line back to the violent riot that appeared blurrier than ever on Friday.
Some of the same conservatives who have submerged the House in gridlock were the most vocal supporters of Donald Trump’s effort to challenge the 2020 election two years ago. Yet even their rebellion against Kevin McCarthy this week underscored how diminished Trump’s influence is over his party’s right flank: The former president’s endorsement of the California Republican did almost nothing to dislodge his 20 dissenters.
And the day’s smattering of memorial events, public statements and remembrances seemed understated compared to the intense focus on the attack last year, when Democrats ran the House and President Joe Biden marked the occasion with a major address at the Capitol. In fact, as lawmakers prepared to mark the anniversary of the Capitol attack with a remembrance of the officers who lost their lives or were injured during and after it, some were laser-focused on the problem in front of them now.
“Look, January 6 is going to roll around every year, just like Pearl Harbor Day rolls around every year, treated like just another day in the calendar,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said. “I want us to keep going until we get a speaker. This is ridiculous stuff.”
The House will return to session Friday for what is expected to be McCarthy’s 12th attempt to win the top gavel. The GOP leader and his leadership team convened a conference call Friday morning to update members on the status of negotiations, hours after he appeared to gather some momentum late Thursday by hashing out specific concessions to hardline members of the GOP conference — offers that his allies were hopeful would move votes in his direction.
But enormous uncertainty lingered Friday morning, as members of the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus had yet to commit their support to McCarthy and a handful of other holdouts continued to signal their opposition to him. Not to mention that McCarthy’s moderate allies, many of whom represent districts won by Biden, are increasingly leery of the number of concessions getting made to the right.
“If this remains the face of the GOP in 2024 we will get pummeled in the Presidential and Congressional elections,” said centrist Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “We would have won more seats in 2022, but too many feared the extremes in the GOP even before this.“
Underscoring the contrast between the historic anniversary and the ongoing speakership drama, a top aide to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the stand Friday against members of the Oath Keepers — charged with seditious conspiracy for their Jan. 6 actions — to recount the horrors that he and other aides endured as they sheltered from the mob two years ago. The partner of a Capitol Police officer who died hours after the riot also filed suit late Thursday against Trump.
In addition, members of the so-called gallery group of Democratic lawmakers who bonded while sheltering during the attack were planning on holding a lunch for Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers. That group, which includes Wild, planned to sit together on the floor during Friday’s proceedings.
Biden also presented Presidential Citizens Medals on Friday to key figures who resisted Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 loss — from state officials to Capitol Police to election workers.
Back on the Hill, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — one of McCarthy’s most dogged critics — made the rounds on the Democratic side of the aisle throughout Thursday’s session and said in a Fox News interview that he was seeking assurances that they wouldn’t leave the House floor, inadvertently helping the GOP leader claim the gavel.
“My conversations with Democrats have largely been about making sure that they don’t leave the floor for dinner or fundraisers or whatnot,” Gaetz said on the “Ingraham Angle.” “We need them to stay there so that the denominator in the equation on the election of a speaker.”
He told one Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, that his group had gotten everything they wanted from McCarthy so far but still didn’t plan to vote for him, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Indeed, Democrats have held together through all 11 speaker ballots so far and signaled no willingness to bail Republicans out of their predicament. They’re preparing to stay through the weekend and have been whipping against Republican efforts to adjourn the House.
Any talk among Democratic and Republican lawmakers about ways to end the speakership standoff has remained preliminary and hasn’t resulted in any concrete agreement.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.