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California Republican Kevin McCarthy again fails to get the votes to become speaker

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the second day, California Republican Kevin McCarthy has failed to get the votes he needs to become speaker of the House. Even before the session started today, McCarthy admitted it might not happen today, but he insisted he will eventually prevail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: We're going to continue to talk. We'll find an agreement where we all get together. And we'll work through this, and we'll get it done.

KELLY: We'll see. And meanwhile, the twists and turns playing out on the floor have brought the House to a standstill. They can't start a new session. Members can't be sworn in until a speaker is elected. Here with the latest from the Capitol, NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Hey. So I've been keeping watch all day. The votes are not changing. Nobody is budging. Has McCarthy made any progress, or does this just keep going?

WALSH: You're right. I mean, as the last round of voting began, Florida Republican Congresswoman Kat Cammack, who stood up to nominate McCarthy for the sixth ballot, started her remarks saying it's "Groundhog Day" again. McCarthy really isn't making any progress. There is still a group of 20 Republicans who are voting against him. Republicans only hold a four-seat majority right now, so McCarthy can't afford to lose more than a few defections. Before - beyond the 20 opponents, there was another member, Indiana Republican Victoria Spartz, who had been voting for McCarthy but voted present today. So things have been sort of trending away from McCarthy. The group opposing Kevin McCarthy got behind a new candidate today, Florida Congressman Byron Donalds, who is Black. He was first elected just two years ago. Texas Congressman Chip Roy, who nominated him, pointed out he could become the first Black speaker. But Donalds just got 20 votes, and he actually admitted he wasn't really planning to run, but he was trying to move forward the effort to try to get Republicans to a consensus.

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BYRON DONALDS: Part of my responsibility is to make sure that our conference gets to a point where we are doing the things in an effective and construction - constructive way - excuse me - that we campaigned on back home.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDS: So I'm going to help do that any way I can.

KELLY: You can hear just what - quite what a day y'all are having there on Capitol Hill there. Are we learning any more, Deirdre, about what McCarthy's opponents want?

WALSH: That's been the complaint from McCarthy's allies. They don't really say specifically. I talked to one of them, South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman, who says he's sticking together. He says it's not personal. The group is sticking together, but he doesn't think McCarthy is a true fiscal conservative. He told me he wants McCarthy to agree and insist on major federal spending cuts or force a government shutdown this fall.

RALPH NORMAN: I want to know - here's my question. If next September, if we're faced with another crisis and either raise the debt ceiling or shut the government down, will you shut the government down? If he says, no, I'm out. I'm out. He's got to do that.

WALSH: Norman even acknowledged that with divided government, the cuts that he and other conservatives are pushing for can't even get through. But he argued the country is facing a crisis, and he wants to push back. Democrats, as you know, have been warning when Republicans took over the House, there could be this standoff over spending and the credit limit, and they're worried about the impact on the economy if that happens.

KELLY: Well, are there talks going on? Are there efforts to break the logjam?

WALSH: There are starting to be more talks. A McCarthy aide said there's been a group that's been sort of reaching out. I've been watching inside the chamber, and there's all kinds of really intense huddles in different groups around the floor throughout the day. But we may be reaching a point where some members are starting to say out loud that McCarthy may need to step aside. Colorado Republican Ken Buck said in an interview on CNN he could reach his limit, and they may need to turn to someone else. It's unclear who that would be; maybe McCarthy's No. 2, Steve Scalise from Louisiana. But the House is in a adjournment period for a couple hours now. So the closed-door discussions will just keep continuing.

KELLY: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thank you.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.