GOP House members limped through a second day of multiple balloting Wednesday and were unable to elect Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House or agree on a new strategy to end the political upheaval that has tarnished the start of their new congressional majority.
Republicans tried to vote McCarthy into the top position for a fourth, fifth and sixth time as the House fell into further disarray. However, votes were producing almost identical outcomes, with 20 conservatives holding out and refusing to support him, leaving him short of the 218 needed to win the position. At one point, McCarthy saw his tally fall to 201 as a Republican switched their vote to ‘present.’
With no signs of a speedy way to end the political standoff, GOP legislators voted abruptly to adjourn as they scrambled to search for an endgame to the chaos.
“Well, it’s Groundhog Day,” said Republican Representative Kat Cammack of Florida when nominating McCarthy on the sixth ballot.
She continued, “To all Americans watching right now, we hear you. And we will get through this — no matter how messy.”
However, far-right conservatives, aligned with former President Donald Trump and led by the Freedom Caucus, appeared strengthened by the standoff, though the former president publicly backed McCarthy.
“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Florida Republican Representative Byron Donalds, who was nominated three times as an alternative by his conservative colleagues. “There’s a lot of members in the chamber who want to have serious conversations about how we can bring this all to a close and elect a speaker.”
McCarthy, representing a California district, vowed to fight despite the tedious spectacle. Private discussions became animated on the chamber floor between McCarthy detractors and supporters searching for a result.
When the speaker is elected, any other work can be done, including forming committees, investigating the Biden administration, tackling legislation, and swearing in new members.
“I still have the most votes,” said McCarthy at the beginning of the session. “At the end of the day, we’ll be able to get there.”
It was the first time in 100 years that a Speaker of the House nominee could not take the gavel after the first vote; however, McCarthy appeared undeterred. He vowed he would continue to fight to the finish.
Inability to confirm a speaker could foretell upcoming difficulties
The chaotic start to the new Congress foretold difficulties that may lie ahead with the GOP now in control of the House.
For his part, President Joe Biden said, “the rest of the world is looking” at the scene playing out on the floor of the House. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long,” said Biden. “I have no idea” who will prevail.
Earlier, former President Trump urged Republicans to cast their vote for McCarthy. “Close the deal, take the victory,” he wrote in all capital letters on his social media site. “Do not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat.”
As the voting spectacle dragged on, backers of McCarthy imported holdouts to fall in line. “I do think members on both sides of this are getting a lot of pressure now,” said Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “So, I think the message from home is, ‘Hey, sort this stuff out; we don’t have time for the small stuff and the egos.'”
The standoff has been building over McCarthy since the GOP won the House majority in the November midterm elections. House Republicans are eager to confront Biden after two years of Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate. The solidly conservative Freedom Caucus led the opposition to McCarthy, maintaining he was neither tough enough nor conservative enough to lead the battle against the Democrats.
If McCarthy could nail down 213 votes and persuade the remainder of his opposition to vote present, he could lower the vote threshold required under the rules to maintain the majority.