Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives floundered Wednesday when, for a second day, a group of conservative lawmakers withheld crucial support in multiple rounds of voting.
McCarthy, a 16-year lawmaker from California and the House Republican leader in the session of Congress that ended Tuesday, has long sought to become speaker. But he lost three votes on Tuesday in his quest for a 218-vote majority in the 435-member chamber, and he failed in three more rounds of balloting on Wednesday.
McCarthy fell short by as many as 17 votes Wednesday, as conservative members of his own party continued to say he was not ideologically strong enough to lead.
The House adjourned for a few hours early Wednesday evening, only to then adjourn until noon Thursday.
It has been 100 years since neither a Republican nor a Democrat won the House speakership on the first round of voting to become the leader of the lower house of Congress.
The fourth vote came hours after former President Donald Trump publicly called for McCarthy’s election as House speaker, a lawmaker he has described as “My Kevin.”
“It’s now time for all of our great Republican House members to vote for Kevin, close the deal, take the victory,” Trump said on his social media network.
Trump warned the slim Republican majority in the 118th session of Congress to “not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat. It’s time to celebrate, you deserve it. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a great job — just watch!”
But Trump’s new statement, following calls in recent days to some of the dissidents opposing McCarthy, had no effect. The former president, who has announced his 2024 campaign to try to reclaim the White House, had for weeks voiced his support for McCarthy.
Republican Representative Lauren Boebert said on the House floor Wednesday that Trump "needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, 'Sir, you do not have the votes, and it's time to withdraw.'”
President Joe Biden answered a question about the stalemate as well, telling reporters at the White House before the fourth vote, “With regard to the fight over the speaker, that’s not my problem.
“I just think it’s a little embarrassing that it’s taking so long … and the rest of the world is looking,” he said. “They’re looking at, you know, we need to get our act together.”
Republicans will hold a narrow 222-212 majority in the House, with one current vacancy, requiring McCarthy to win at least 218 votes to claim the speakership, assuming all 434 lawmakers vote. Under a provision in the U.S. Constitution, he also would become second in line of succession to the presidency.
Nineteen Republicans, many of them in recent weeks expressing the view that McCarthy was not conservative enough to lead House Republicans, voted for other Republican lawmakers in the first round of voting, including representatives Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan, two vocal opponents of Biden.
In the second round of voting, 19 dissident Republicans voted for Jordan, even though he nominated McCarthy as his choice to lead the majority Republican caucus in the new two-year House session. On the third round, another Republican, Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a second-term lawmaker, switched his vote to Jordan after voting for McCarthy on the first two ballots.
In the Wednesday balloting, 20 lawmakers in the anti-McCarthy bloc voted for Donalds to become the new speaker in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.
Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, with all 212 Democrats voting for him, led the voting for the speakership, although he has no chance of winning the job because no Republicans plan to vote for him to help him reach the 218 majority.
On the fourth and fifth ballots, 201 Republicans voted for McCarthy, 16 short of the 217 he needed because in both rounds of voting, one lawmaker voted “present,” lowering the required majority total by one vote.
The 57-year-old McCarthy, a staunch conservative himself, has sought for years to lead the House. Over the past several weeks, he has met repeatedly with his Republican foes to secure their support.
McCarthy offered to change the House’s governing rules in several ways, including to permit snap votes to declare the speakership vacant and select someone else if they did not like his policy stances or how the party caucus was conducting its promised investigations of Biden and his administration.
Whomever the Republicans eventually elect will replace outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remains a House member and cast her votes for Jeffries.
Democrats, who have been locked in a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate the past two years, gained an edge in the nationwide congressional elections nearly two months ago and will hold a 50-49 majority in the upper chamber, even after onetime Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she is now an independent but would not change her voting philosophy. She usually has voted with the Democratic lawmakers and Biden.
Choosing a House speaker occurs even before representatives are sworn into office for their two-year terms. Lawmakers have called out the name of their choice for House speaker from the floor of the chamber, and the same scenario will continue to play out in succeeding rounds of voting until someone wins the speakership.