After Republican leader Kevin McCarthy could not gain a majority in three rounds of voting due to a mutiny by a few conservatives on Tuesday, the House unexpectedly adjourned without electing a new speaker.
Consecutive defeats dealt a personal and political blow to McCarthy, who had spent the last year recruiting hard-line conservatives in the Republican caucus and obscured the GOP’s victory in regaining control of the House. It marked the first time in a century that the House of Representatives did not choose its speaker in a single round of voting for the highest office in Congress. In 1923, after nine ballots were cast over three days, Republican Massachusetts Representative Frederick Gillett was declared the winner. However, the longest time Congress took to elect a House speaker was in 1856. The speaker of the House was chosen after two months and 133 votes.
McCarthy and the holdouts were scheduled to negotiate through the night as his opponents showed no signs of backing down. Nothing he said or did seem likely to sway the dissenters.
McCarthy garnered 203 Republican votes during the second round of voting, with all 19 Republicans who voted against him having backed Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who delivered a speech praising McCarthy just before the second vote.
Florida Representative Byron Donalds switched his support from McCarthy to Jordan on the third and final ballot.
McCarthy’s election was noted to be difficult, with only 188 votes for him in a conference meeting in November.
Lawmakers will meet again on Wednesday at noon to resume voting. Until a new speaker is chosen, the House cannot even officially convene, let alone swear someone into office.
Swing-district moderates and conservatives who have adopted the agenda of former President Donald Trump are at odds over who will lead the Republican Party, and the campaign for speakership is only one front in that larger conflict. It foreshadows the chaos that could sweep the chamber in the coming months as Congress tries to raise the debt ceiling and finance the government. In these two subjects, a minority of House Republicans may cause a stalemate.
In all three rounds of voting, McCarthy, 57, received the support of the vast majority of Republican voters. In the first two ballots, 19 Republicans opposed him; by the third, that number had grown to 20.
Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, who backs McCarthy, was nominated by McCarthy critic and House member Matt Gaetz. Gaetz suggested on the floor that “maybe the best person for speaker of the House isn’t someone who wants it so desperately.”
McCarthy’s detractors have banded together around Jordan as a possible replacement, but the staunch conservative has an uphill battle to win over moderates in swing districts. As the infighting escalated, it became more personal.
Texas Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw remarked these folks attempting to knock down McCarthy don’t think about five feet in front of them. McCarthy has made many changes to please conservatives, including a provision that simplifies removing the speaker. His detractors have a long list of demands, including tough border security measures for Texas, balancing the budget, term limits for Congress, and specific committee assignments.
Since balancing the budget requires severe cuts to popular programs like Medicare, moderates, for example, don’t want to be obliged to take a vote on one. This might hurt them in a primary or general election. To add insult to injury, politicians have always been opposed to term limits.
McCarthy must negotiate on two fronts if he wants to become speaker: with moderates in his party to determine how much they can take and with the hard-liners who have rejected his speakership.
Dusty Johnson, a representative from South Dakota who met with McCarthy after the House had adjourned and backed McCarthy’s bid, said that members have been pressing the holdouts to clarify their demands. He said the people who disagreed with McCarthy would meet on Tuesday to discuss improving their demands. If they can decide on something most of the group can be comfortable with, then there will be an opportunity to get to yes, Johnson said.
Democrats in the House of Representatives were not in the mood to assist McCarthy in gaining the necessary 218 votes for a majority in the House or to abstain from voting to make the majority smaller. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, their newly elected leader, received the most votes cast in every vote for speaker.
After Jeffries took over as House Speaker following the midterm elections, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that there was “no likelihood” that any Democrats would abstain from votes or vote against him.
Even conservative Democrats like Texas Representative Henry Cuellar have clarified that they don’t expect McCarthy and the Democrats to reach an agreement.