In a day of high political drama, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed to be elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
The House adjourned without a speaker Tuesday night, the first time since 1923 that they failed to choose a leader after a first-round vote.
The start of a new Congress was supposed to be a victory lap for the Republican Party, as it seized control of the House after the November election. Instead, McCarthy faced a rebellion within his own ranks and made history for all the wrong reasons.
The California congressman has lost three straight votes for president so far, and it’s unclear what his path to victory might be when the House returns Wednesday to try it all again. They will continue to cast a ballot until somebody wins a greater part.
And even if McCarthy finds a way, analysts warn, the turmoil in the House heralds a tumultuous two years of moderate and right-wing Republicans at war with each other.
A Conservative faction incapable to really run the lower place of Congress could hamper its capacity to complete a portion of its center capabilities, like passing spending bills or raising the debt ceiling.
“The negotiations made him look weak”
Republicans narrowly won control of the House in November, leaving McCarthy with only a few votes to spare in his bid to become Speaker of the House. That allowed a group of hardline conservatives to come together to oppose his nomination.
The break was a long time coming, according to Republican observers.
“Kevin McCarthy hasn’t made friends with certain segments of the caucus for a while, he’s made a lot of enemies,” said a Republican lobbyist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about Tuesday’s vote. “There are individuals who could do without him for political reasons, for individual reasons.”
It’s Not Over for McCarthy’s Speaker’s Candidacy: Here’s Why
McCarthy entered into negotiations with his detractors, who see him as too conventional and power-hungry, offering concessions to try to win his vote. At a certain point, he supposedly consented to change House rules to make it simpler to expel a sitting president, giving his rivals gigantic command over his power.
“The fact that he was negotiating with the Republicans made him seem very, very weak to the point of being desperate,” the Republican lobbyist said.
His opponents feel emboldened.
The futility of that approach became clear Tuesday.
In three consecutive ballots, McCarthy failed to reach the required threshold of 218 votes. In spite of the fact that conservatives hold 222 seats, a coalition of 19 extreme right conservatives has set contrary to him. They oppose McCarthy for ideological and personal reasons, but they also see an opportunity to exploit the narrow majority of Republicans to force more concessions from him.
“They would never back down,” Rep. Rob Good, a Virginia Republican, told reporters Tuesday.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the day, they even nominated Representative Jim Jordan to challenge him, moments after Jordan himself had nominated Mr. McCarthy for Speaker.
Even after Jordan, who is a leading figure in the far-right Freedom Caucus, urged Republicans to “back” McCarthy in the third round of voting, 20 Republicans voted for Jordan, again denying McCarthy victory.
Meanwhile, Democrats stood united behind their party’s new leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Some couldn’t help but publicly mock their Republican counterparts about their party’s difficult afternoon. One congressman, Ruben Gallego of Arizona, tweeted that Democrats were “handing out the popcorn” and included as evidence a photo of the snack.
What are McCarthy’s options now?
Political observers in Washington have begun to come up with various theories as to how this could all end. His predictions to the BBC ranged from the doable (Mr. McCarthy hangs on and wins, but walks away seriously weakened) to the completely doable (he retires and backs his second-in-command, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana). ). One suggestion bordered on fantasy (five Republicans decide to vote for Jeffries, a Democrat, and hand him control of the House).
As he stands, McCarthy is “essentially held hostage by one side of his party,” said Ruth Bloch Rubin, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who studies partisanship.
McCarthy has vowed to make no further concessions, but he may not have a choice. He could try to win over stubborn lawmakers with plum committee assignments or new leadership roles.
“He must give individuals who are against him something to hold tight to,” said Aaron Cutler, a lobbyist who once worked for previous senator Eric Cantor, another lawmaker who was ousted by the conservative opposition. The other conservative lobbyist, in any case, accepted there was “no way to triumph, totally, period.
The members will meet again for a fourth time on Wednesday, though it is unclear if the deadlock will be broken.
“We haven’t heard anything new from McCarthy,” one of the moderate holdouts, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, told reporters. “So I guess we’ll just keep doing this.”