WASHINGTON, DC– House Republicans will open the second day of the new Congress much like the first — with leader Kevin McCarthy trying to become Speaker of the House despite losing in multiple rounds of voting, throwing the new GOP majority into chaos.
It was the first time in 100 years that a candidate for the House of Representatives failed to take the gavel on the first ballot, but McCarthy seemed unfazed. Instead, he vowed to fight to the end, encouraged, he said, by former President Donald Trump to end disorder and bring the Republican Party together.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to meet Wednesday after the standoff essentially halted all other business and wait for Republicans to elect a speaker.
“Is today the day I wanted it to be? No,” McCarthy told reporters late Tuesday at the Capitol after a series of closed-door meetings.
McCarthy said Trump wanted him to stay in the running and urged him to put an end to House Republican chaos and bring the party together.
The former president “wants to see Republicans united to be able to accomplish the very things that we’ve announced,” McCarthy said.
When asked if he would step out, McCarthy said, “That’s not going to happen.”
It’s been a tumultuous start to the new Congress and hinted at the difficulties ahead as Republicans now have control of the House of Representatives.
Tensions flared among the majority of the new House of Representatives as their campaign promises faltered. Without a speaker, the House of Representatives cannot fully form — it can swear in its members, appoint its committee chairs, participate in ground trials, and initiate investigations into the Biden administration. Lawmakers’ families had been waiting as a normally festive day descended into chaos, with children playing in the aisles or squirming in parents’ arms.
But it wasn’t clear at all how the embattled GOP leader could bounce back to win over right flank conservatives who reject his leadership. Normally, it takes a House majority to become Speaker, 218 votes — although the threshold can drop if members are absent or just voting, a strategy McCarthy appeared to be considering.
McCarthy won no more than 203 votes in three rounds of voting, losing as many as 20 Republicans from his slim 222-seat majority.
The election of a Speaker has not taken place in multiple ballots since 1923, and the longest and most grueling battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months, with 133 ballots cast during the debates on slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.
“Kevin McCarthy will not be a speaker,” stated Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., one of the holdouts.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of whom support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, are looking to turn business as usual on its head in Washington and have pledged to halt McCarthy’s rise without compromising on their priorities.
In many ways, the far right’s challenge was reminiscent of the last time Republicans seized power in the House, when Tea Party Republicans brought hardball politics and crippled the government after winning control in the 2010 midterm elections .
As the election spectacle dragged on, McCarthy’s supporters begged those who stood out to stand for the California Republican.
“We all came here to get things done,” second-ranking Republican Rep. Steve Scalise said in a speech nominating McCarthy for the vote and urging his peers to drop their protest.
Scalise, itself a possible GOP compromise election, railed against Democratic President Joe Biden’s agenda, saying, “We can’t begin to fix these issues until we elect Kevin McCarthy as our next speaker.”
But the holdouts forced a third and final round of voting before Republican leaders quickly adjourned Tuesday night.
“The American people are watching, and that’s a good thing,” said R-Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who nominated Ohio Conservative Rep. Jim Jordan as the alternate speaker.
Jordan, the McCarthy rival-turned-ally, has twice been pushed forward by Conservatives but he doesn’t appear to want the job. The Ohio Republican is set to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he rose during the debate to urge his peers to vote for McCarthy instead.
“We need to gather around him, come together,” Jordan said.
Overall, a core group of 19 Republicans — and then 20 — voted for someone other than McCarthy. The first ballot sent votes to Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, Jordan and others, while Jordan alone won the votes in the next two ballots.
The McCarthy stalemate has been building since Republicans were on track to win the House majority in November’s midterm elections. While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, House Republicans are eager to confront Biden after two years of Democrat control of both houses of Congress. The conservative Freedom Caucus led opposition to McCarthy, believing he was neither conservative nor tough enough to fight the Democrats.
To garner support, McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of the Freedom Caucus, which advocates rule changes and other concessions that give the grassroots more leverage in the legislative process. He has been here before, having retired from the speaker race in 2015 when he failed to convince Conservatives.
Pizza, Chick-fil-A and tacos were carried to various meeting rooms in the Capitol late Tuesday after the failed votes as McCarthy supporters and critics huddled to figure out how to choose a speaker.
“Everything is on the table,” said McCarthy ally Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C. – except, he said, to have the leader step aside. “Not at all. That’s not on the table.”
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a leader in Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election, had previously said it was up to McCarthy to meet her demands and change the momentum.
Democrats enthusiastically nominated Jeffries, who will take over as party leader, as their choice for speaker — a typically symbolic gesture for the minority, but one that took on new meaning as Republicans were at odds with one another.
While Jeffries won the most votes overall, 212, it wasn’t the majority to become speaker.
McCarthy focused on those numbers late Tuesday. If McCarthy could win 213 votes and then convince the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the majority threshold required by the rules.
It’s a strategy that previous House Speakers, including outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Speaker John Boehner, employed when they faced the opposition and won the gavel by fewer than 218 votes.
McCarthy said in the Capitol late Tuesday: “You get 213 votes and the others don’t say another name so you can win.”
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