Unable to elect Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as the new speaker of the US House of Representatives on Tuesday, Republicans postponed the day in disarray as the party tries to recover from its historic defeat after a long and chaotic run in the new Congress.
The abrupt end to the first day shows there is no easy way out for McCarthy, whose efforts to claim the gavel have collapsed in the face of opposition from conservatives. Needing 218 votes in the entire House, McCarthy only polled 203 in two rounds, one short of Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the Republican-controlled chamber. The third ballot is even worse, with McCarthy losing 20 votes by nightfall to the new GOP majority in the House, and tensions are as high as all the other trade booths.
The House of Representatives approved the return on Wednesday afternoon.
McCarthy had vowed to “fight the field” for as long as it took to defeat fellow right-wing Republicans who refused to vote for him. But it was never clear how the beleaguered Republican could bounce back after becoming the first House presidential candidate in 100 years not to take the gavel from his fellow party members in the primary vote.
Without a speaker, the House of Representatives cannot fully constitute itself — appointing its committee chairs, participating in chamber debates, and launching investigations into US President Joe Biden’s administration that must be at the center of the Republican agenda.
“We all came here to get things done,” Republican Representative Steve Scales said in a rousing speech urging his colleagues to drop their protest.
Reflecting US President Joe Biden’s agenda, Scales said, “We cannot begin to address these issues until we elect Kevin McCarthy as our next president.”
Republicans offer alternatives
It was a bumpy start for the new Congress and signaled a difficult road for Republicans to regain control of the House of Representatives.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of them aligned with Donald Trump’s MAGA agenda, want to change the status quo in Washington and are committed to halting the rise of McCarthy without compromising their own priorities.
“The American people are watching, and that’s a good thing,” said Republican Representative Chip Roy, who nominated fellow conservative Jordan of Ohio to replace the Speaker of the House.
It was the second time the Conservative Party had pushed a reluctant Jordan, McCarthy’s rival turned ally, who had previously rallied to urge his colleagues, even those who supported him, to vote for McCarthy.
“We have to get around it together,” Jordan said.
Jordan received six votes in the first round, 19 in the second round, and one vote, for a total of 20 in the third round.
McCarthy smiled through it all, met his aides briefly, then seemed determined to try to wear his teammates down.
Earlier, he entered the room, posed for photos and received a standing ovation from many on his side of the aisle after being nominated by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, who said the California native from Bakersfield “has what it takes” to run the House Republicans.
“Nobody has worked harder for this majority than Kevin McCarthy,” Stefanik said.
But on that first vote, a quick challenge was put forward by Rep. Andy Biggs, the former leader of the Freedom Caucus, who had been named chairman by his fellow conservative. In all, 19 Republicans broke with McCarthy, depriving McCarthy of the majority he needed while voting for Biggs or others in protest.
stress at home
The atmosphere was tense, at least on the Republican side, with lawmakers rising from their seats, in a long first round of in-person voting. Democrats were thrilled when they voted for their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the first black man to lead a major American political party.
“We could be fighting on the ground, but the fight is for Congress and the country,” McCarthy said earlier on Capitol Hill.
In the final first round, McCarthy won with 203 votes, 10 for Biggs and nine for other Republicans. Jeffries, the Democratic leader, has already gained more than 212 votes. However, no candidate obtained a majority.
The final tally of the second round saw Jeffries receive 212 votes, McCarthy again with 203, and Jordan 19. In the third round Jeffries remained at 212 votes, McCarthy receiving 202 votes and Jordan upping his vote by 20.
It usually takes a majority of 435 members of the House of Representatives, or 218 votes, to become Speaker of the House. With a slim majority of 222 seats, McCarthy could stomach only a few detractors. The speaker could win by no more than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Republican John Boehner have done in recent years, if some lawmakers were absent or simply voted present.
Every candidate in the past 100 years has gone through the first round. The record number of votes to elect the Speaker of the House is 133 over a two-month period in the 1850s.
McCarthy emerged from a closed and contentious meeting with other House Republicans, unable to win cash and lacking the support needed to become Speaker of the House. He has vowed to fight to the end — even if it takes several attempts at a public spectacle that will deepen divisions within his party and weaken his leadership in the early days of a new Congress.
A core group of conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Donald Trump’s MAGA agenda was furious, calling the special meeting a “defeat” by McCarthy allies and remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Republican leader.
“There is one person who could have changed all of that,” said Republican Representative Scott Perry, chairman of the Freedom Caucus and leader of Trump’s effort to run for the 2020 presidential election.
The group said McCarthy rejected the group’s latest offer to change the rules during a Monday night meeting at the Capitol.
“If you want to drain the swamp, you can’t put the biggest gator under the control of a drill,” said Republican Representative Matt Gaetz.
“We fired with passion,” said Republican Representative Lauren Boebert.
McCarthy is among the Republicans who have defied the subpoenas
Lawmakers gathered in a new era of divided government as Democrats relinquished control of the House of Representatives after midterm election losses. While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, House Republicans are hardly eager to stand up to President Joe Biden’s agenda after two years of Democrats controlling both houses of Congress.
Ignoring the new Democratic leadership, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi closed the final session moments earlier, to a standing ovation from her colleagues on her side of the aisle.
The shift in party control means that the work of the Democratic-led commission investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol will be halted, an effort that McCarthy and nearly every other House Republican has derided.
In its final report, that committee recommended that McCarthy, Perry, Biggs, and new House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan address the House Ethics Committee’s actions to challenge subpoenas for an interview with the committee.
Pelosi, who turns 83 in March, will step down from his leadership role for the Democrats. Jeffries would become the party’s minority leader.
In the Senate, Democrats retained little control of the chamber, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.