US House fails to elect new speaker in first round of voting

For the first time in nearly a century, the United States House of Representatives has failed to elect a speaker in the first round of voting as Republican Kevin McCarthy fell short of securing a majority in the chamber to succeed Nancy Pelosi.

Republicans narrowly won control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections, but several right-wing legislators of McCarthy’s own party refused to back him during the new House’s first meeting on Tuesday.

The speaker must acquire a majority of the votes, excluding absent lawmakers and those who vote “present”. On Tuesday, McCarthy needed 218 votes, but he only received 202, with 19 Republicans voting against him – mainly for representatives Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan.

Before the voting, far-right Congressman Paul Gosar had nominated Biggs as a candidate, but Jordan did not seek the speakership, and he voted for McCarthy himself.

Democratic nominee, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, received 211 votes – a higher tally than McCarthy – but he was never realistically in the running for the speakership with his party in the minority.

McCarthy, a California Republican, had served as minority leader since Democrats took the majority in 2019.

Hakeem Jeffries
Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, received more votes than Kevin McCarthy in the first round of voting [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

The chamber started a second round of voting shortly after the first one. Subsequent ballots will be held until a candidate wins a majority.

Congress will remain effectively non-functional until a new House speaker is chosen.

The speaker of the House is second in the line of succession for the US presidency and the country’s most powerful legislator with decisive influence on what bills and amendments get to be considered.

The House and the Senate make up Congress, which passes federal legislation, allocates government spending and ensures oversight.

After the voting, Biggs – an Arizona Republican – called on McCarthy to “stand down” and allow Republicans to choose another leader in the next ballot.

“We barely got through half the ballot before confirming that McCarthy is still well short of 218 votes,” he wrote on Twitter. “My colleagues have made clear that our party deserves a new leader.”

McCarthy had been negotiating with the politicians who oppose his bid for speaker, offering concessions that may dilute his own power.

He has promised to centre right-wing priorities, including investigating the business practices of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — an issue that Democrats dismiss as a conspiracy theory.

The top Republican has also called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign over his handling of migration at the southern border and threatened to investigate and impeach him.

Moreover, he promised to restore the committee assignments of Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was kicked off congressional panels in 2021 over anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

He still failed to quell opposition to his bid from the far-right.

Before the first ballot on Tuesday, McCarthy signalled willingness to withstand several rounds of voting. “I will always fight to put the American people first, not a few individuals that want something for themselves,” he told reporters. “So, we may have a battle on the [House] floor, but the battle is for the [Republican] conference and the country, and that’s fine with me.”

McCarthy also failed to reach a majority on the second round of voting.

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