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House speaker race: Byron Donalds responds to 'retribution' for running against Kevin McCarthy


Republicans are still deciding who will be the House speaker for the 118th session of Congress, but as Rep-elect. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says he is getting closer to the gavel some members are starting to wonder about potential retribution for voting against him.

One member who is not worried is Rep.-elect Byron Donalds, R-Fla., who has received votes for the speakership and has held out against McCarthy in four of the six votes. 

"I’m 6’2" 275 [pounds], I am not worried about that," Donalds said outside the Capitol when asked by NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Ryan Nobles if he was worried about potential retribution.

Donalds initially backed McCarthy’s speakership but after the California Republican failed to reach the 218-vote threshold in two votes on Tuesday, the Florida lawmaker shifted gears. 

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 14: Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., speaks at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Building on June 14, 2022, in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 14: Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., speaks at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Building on June 14, 2022, in Washington, DC.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

"The reality is Rep. Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the votes," Donalds tweeted after changing his vote against McCarthy during the third speakership vote Tuesday. "I committed my support to him publicly and for two votes on the House Floor. 218 is the number, and currently, no one is there. Our conference needs to recess and huddle and find someone or work out the next steps."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 29, 2022, in Washington, DC.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 29, 2022, in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donalds became the 20th Republican to vote for a candidate that was not McCarthy, namely Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has said he does not want the speakership and has endorsed McCarthy. The failed speaker votes were the first since 1923.

"These continuous votes aren’t working for anyone," Donalds added. "When the dust settles, we will have a Republican Speaker, now is the time for our conference to debate and come to a consensus. This will take time, Democracy is messy at times, but we will be ready to govern on behalf of the American people. Debate is healthy."

During an interview on "Fox & Friends" Wednesday morning, Donalds said after the second vote showed the leadership tally was "deadlocked" that Republicans should have convened privately and found a new candidate. 

He also addressed the perception that Republicans are wasting time by not choosing to back McCarthy, saying the "bout over House leadership" was important as it will determine how Republicans will "get Washington back on track."

"For too long in the nation’s capital, people have gone along with the next wave of leadership. And that’s not an anti-Kevin McCarthy statement. That is a statement about what a deliberative open process means for the constitutional republic that is the United States of America."

The Floridian struck an optimistic tone, saying Republicans would "find a way to make it happen."

Part of the contention behind Donalds and the 19 other Republicans, including the House Freedom Caucus led by Rep-elect. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. and Rep.-elect Scott Perry, R-Penn., includes McCarthy not wavering on a few demands. 

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 04: U.S. Rep.-elect Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks to the media during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023, in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 04: U.S. Rep.-elect Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks to the media during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023, in Washington, DC.  (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Defectors want to ensure they are not forced to give up committee assignments; they want investigative inquiries into the FBI and others and they want to reinstate the motion to vacate — a process of the majority party voting out the current speaker, should they lose faith in his or her leadership. 

The motion to vacate can be initiated by any single majority member — a figure well under the 20 defectors McCarthy is currently facing. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., previously abolished the longstanding process.

"Any member that wants to be a leader should not be afraid of that," Donalds added.  

"The rules matter in how you govern this place," he told "Fox & Friends" anchor Brian Kilmeade Wednesday. "Once we elect a speaker, the rules are going to dictate how the House functions and that goes directly to the ability of us accomplishing solutions that everybody wants to see here on Capitol Hill."

Following the interview, Donalds voted against McCarthy in the fourth, fifth and sixth speaker votes. 

The House failed on three votes for speaker Tuesday, then adjourned. The first two votes Tuesday included 19 votes for candidates besides McCarthy, which became 20 after Rep.-elect Bryon Donalds flipped to the anti-McCarthy side in the third vote.

The plurality of those votes went to Jordan, but the situation changed the following day.

On Wednesday, the defectors nominated Donalds for speaker, who received the same 20 total votes in the fourth, fifth and sixth ballots.

After the series of votes, the House narrowly voted 216-214 to adjourn until Thursday, when members will continue to vote on the next Speaker. All Democrats and a few Republicans voted against adjourning for the day.

Following the final vote, McCarthy said some progress had been made in negotiations with those voting against him, and said private discussions would be more productive than forcing more votes.

"I crawl before I walk, I walk before I run," McCarthy said after the House adjourned. "I felt as though we had a very good discussion."

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 04: Rep. Chip Roy, R-TX, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., confer with each other on the floor of the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 04: Rep. Chip Roy, R-TX, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., confer with each other on the floor of the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Washington, DC.  (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

McCarthy has failed six total times to get the 218 votes needed to win the speaker's gavel: three times on Tuesday and three times on Wednesday. His most was 203 votes on Tuesday, and 201 on Wednesday.

Electing a speaker must be the first action of a new session of Congress, even before swearing-in ceremonies for new members.  situation presently.

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