Kevin McCarthy fails speakership bid after 11 rounds of voting over three days | House of Representatives

The 118th Congress made history again on Thursday, as House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failed to win the speakership for the 11th time after eight hours of voting. The protracted stalemate marks the first time since 1859 that the House has required more than nine ballots to determine a new speaker.

McCarthy entered the third day of voting with fresh momentum for his candidacy, amid reports that he had made significant concessions to his roughly 20 detractors within the Republican conference.

But the ongoing negotiations did not sway McCarthy’s critics, who continued to oppose him across three votes on Thursday. McCarthy won 200 votes on the ninth ballot, leaving him 18 votes short of the 218 needed for a victory.

The Thursday votes included a couple of surprises. Far-right congressman Matt Gaetz, a Republican of Florida, twice cast a ballot for Donald Trump. As the US constitution does not specify that the House speaker must be a member of the chamber, lawmakers are not required to support one of their colleagues. Trump received no other votes.

Another one of McCarthy’s detractors, congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, nominated congressman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma for the ninth ballot. Hern, the chair of the Republican study committee, received the support of several members in the final three rounds of voting, even as he himself stayed in McCarthy’s corner. Gaetz flipped from supporting Trump to Hern for the ninth and 10th votes.

Thursday’s proceedings marked the third straight day of voting in the speakership election. The House deadlocked over the speakership three times on Wednesday, following the three inconclusive votes held a day earlier. Rather than voting a fourth time on Wednesday, members moved to adjourn until the evening, giving McCarthy’s team more time to negotiate with his Republican detractors.

The evening, too, failed to produce a solution, so the chamber reconvened only to adjourn again until the following afternoon. This is the first time in a century that the House has not chosen a speaker on the first ballot.

In an initial glimmer of hope for McCarthy’s prospects, most of the holdout Republicans supported his move to adjourn until Thursday at noon. The final vote on the measure was 216-214, as Democrats and a few Republicans tried and failed to keep the chamber in session.

Freshman congressman John James, a Republican of Michigan, celebrated the successful motion to adjourn as a “small victory” when he renominated McCarthy on Thursday. But the House Democratic caucus chair, Pete Aguilar, mocked James’s boast as a telling sign of Republican dysfunction.

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy speaks to Representative Andy Ogles inside the House chamber during voting on Thursday.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy speaks to Representative Andy Ogles inside the House chamber during voting on Thursday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“There is no victory in adjourning without doing the business of the people,” Aguilar said as he renominated the Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries.

The Republican opposition to McCarthy has been notably stable, even after the detractors reportedly notched some important wins in their negotiations. According to CNN, McCarthy has agreed to a chamber rule change allowing just one House member to call for a vote to remove the sitting speaker. McCarthy has also reportedly agreed to allow additional members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus to serve on the influential rules committees, and he has promised votes on some of the detractors’ top legislative priorities.

In another major win for far-right House members, the McCarthy-aligned Pac Congressional Leadership Fund has reached an agreement with the organization Club for Growth to not invest in open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts. The two groups have previously clashed in primaries where the Club for Growth promoted candidates who were farther to the right than those endorsed by the CLF. The agreement could give hard-right candidates a better chance at a primary victory, clearing the way for them to join the House after winning relatively easy general elections.

But the concessions do not yet appear to have swayed McCarthy’s critics within the conference. Congressman Scott Perry, chair of the House Freedom Caucus and a leader of the anti-McCarthy coalition, expressed frustration that details of the concessions had leaked to the press.

“A deal is NOT done. When confidences are betrayed and leaks are directed, it’s even more difficult to trust,” Perry said on Thursday afternoon. “I will not yield to the status quo.”

A deal is NOT done. When confidences are betrayed and leaks are directed, it’s even more difficult to trust. Totally unsat. I will not yield to the status quo.

— RepScottPerry (@RepScottPerry) January 5, 2023

McCarthy can only afford to lose the support of four Republicans and still become speaker, assuming all 434 current members of the House cast ballots. If some of McCarthy’s detractors instead choose to vote “present”, the threshold for victory could be lower than 218.

McCarthy’s allies complained that the impasse is already affecting their constituents, as all House business has come to a halt until a speaker is selected.

“My office was informed by an agency today that they cannot communicate with my staff regarding active casework because we are not yet sworn in,” said congressman Don Bacon, a Republican of Nebraska. “The handful holding up the speaker election is not helping Americans but directly hurting them.

But McCarthy’s critics have shown no sign of relenting, instead celebrating the ongoing gridlock as a sign of vigorous debate.

“This deliberation is healthy,” said Congressman Andy Biggs, a Republican of Arizona. “The House should always be this engaged instead of rubber stamping all bills coming through it.”

In the face of Republican division, Democrats have remained united in backing their newly chosen leader. Jeffries has won the support of all 212 members of the Democratic caucus on all of the ballots, making him the top vote-getter in the speakership election so far.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Jeffries implored Republicans to reach a consensus for the sake of the nation.

“It’s my hope that today, the House Republicans will stop the bickering, stop the backbiting and stop the backstabbing of each other so we can have the back of the American people,” Jeffries said. “We as Democrats are ready, willing and able to partner with them to find common ground whenever and wherever possible – not as Democrats, not as Republicans, as Americans. It’s time for Congress to get to work.”

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