Republican leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly voted down for House speaker role

House Republicans have for the second day been unable to either elect their leader Kevin McCarthy as House speaker or come up with a suitable alternative.

Despite the stalemate, McCarthy refused to give up, even after the fourth, fifth and sixth ballots produced no better outcome and he was left trying to call off a night-time session, with even such a proposal being controversial, as the House voted 216-214 — amid shouting and crowding — to adjourn for the night.

“No deal yet,” Mr McCarthy said shortly before that as he left a lengthy closed-door dinner-time meeting with key holdouts and his own allies. “But a lot of progress.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

No progress at all was evident throughout the day of vote-after-vote-after-vote as Republicans tried to elevate Mr McCarthy into the top job.

House Republicans have for the second day been unable to either elect their leader Kevin McCarthy as House speaker or come up with a suitable alternative.

The ballots were producing almost the same outcome, 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to support him, and leaving him far short of the 218 typically needed to win the gavel.

In fact, Mr McCarthy saw his support slip to 201, as one fellow Republican switched to vote simply present.

Seeing no quick way out of the political standoff, Republicans voted abruptly late in the day to adjourn for a few hours as they desperately searched for an endgame to the chaos of their own making.

They were due back in the evening, but Mr McCarthy wanted to take a break until Thursday.

“I think people need to work a little more,” Mr McCarthy said. “I don’t think a vote tonight would make any difference. But a vote in the future could.”

But even a simple motion to adjourn erupted into a floor fight, with Democrats and some Republicans insisting on a lengthy vote.

Mr McCarthy, the California Republican, vowed to fight to the finish for the speaker’s job despite the gruelling spectacle, unlike any in modern times, that threw the new majority into tumult for the first days of the new Congress.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Animated private discussions broke out on the chamber floor and in huddled meetings throughout the Capitol between Mr McCarthy’s supporters and detractors searching for an offramp.

“Well, it’s Groundhog Day,” said Republican Kat Cammack, in nominating Mr McCarthy on the sixth ballot.

“To all Americans watching right now, We hear you. And we will get through this — no matter how messy.”

But the right-flank conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Donald Trump, appeared emboldened by the standoff — though Mr Trump publicly backed Mr McCarthy.

“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Republican Byron Donalds, who was nominated three times by his conservative colleagues as an alternative.

“There’s a lot of members in the chamber who want to have serious conversations about how we can bring this all to a close and elect a speaker.”

The House gavelled in at noon, but no other work could be done — swearing in new members, forming committees, tackling legislation, investigating the Biden administration — until the speaker was elected.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I still have the most votes,” Mr McCarthy said at the start of the session. “At the end of the day, we’ll be able to get there.”

But the dynamic proved no different from day one, as Democrats re-upped their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, for speaker, and Mr Donalds offered his challenge to Mr McCarthy in another history-making moment (both men are black).

It was the first time in 100 years that a nominee for House speaker could not take the gavel on the first vote, but Mr McCarthy appeared undeterred. Instead, he vowed to fight to the finish.

The disorganised start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House.

President Joe Biden, departing the White House for a bipartisan event in Kentucky with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said “the rest of the world is looking” at the scene on the House floor.

“I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long,” Mr Biden said.

Tensions flared among the new House majority as their campaign promises stalled out.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Not since 1923 has a speaker’s election gone to multiple ballots, and the longest and most gruelling fight for the gavel started in late 1855 and dragged out for two months, with 133 ballots, during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Mr Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, want to upend business as usual in Washington, and were committed to stopping Mr McCarthy’s rise without concessions to their priorities.

The standoff over Mr McCarthy has been building since Republicans won the House majority in the midterm elections.

While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, barely, House Republicans are eager to confront Mr Biden after two years of the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress.

The conservative Freedom Caucus led the opposition to Mr McCarthy, believing he is neither conservative enough nor tough enough to battle Democrats.

To win support, Mr McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of the Freedom Caucus, who have been agitating for rules changes and other concessions that give rank-and-file members more influence in the legislative process.

He has been here before, having bowed out of the speakers race in 2015 when he failed to win over conservatives.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Democrats enthusiastically nominated Jeffries, who is taking over as party leader, as their choice for speaker. He won the most votes overall, 212.

If Mr McCarthy could win 213 votes, and then persuade the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the threshold required under the rules to have the majority.

It is a strategy former House speakers, including outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Speaker John Boehner had used when they confronted opposition, winning the gavel with fewer than 218 votes.