US House fails to elect new speaker in first rounds 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 rounds of voting as Republican Kevin McCarthy fell short of securing a majority in the chamber to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

McCarthy was not able to overcome opposition within his own caucus in the three rounds of voting held so far.

Republicans narrowly won control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections, but several right-wing legislators in McCarthy’s own party have 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 203 as 19 Republicans voted against him in the first two ballots. In the third round he lost one more vote, bringing his tally down to 202.

In the first vote, most Republican dissenters backed representatives Andy Biggs or Jim Jordan, and in the second all 19 votes went to Jordan, an Ohio right-wing firebrand, who received 20 votes in the third round.

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

In the second round, Jordan re-nominated McCarthy, and in turn, ultraconservative Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz nominated Jordan, acknowledging that the Ohio representative does not want the job.

The Democratic nominee, Hakeem Jeffries, the party’s leader in the House, received 212 votes in all three rounds – more 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 House minority leader after Democrats took the majority in 2019.

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

Subsequent ballots will be held until a candidate wins a majority, as the House will remain effectively non-functional without a new speaker. The chamber can vote to adjourn, but voting for a speaker would be the first order of business when it reconvenes.

The speaker 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 first ballot, 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 negotiated with the politicians who oppose his bid for speaker, offering concessions that would dilute his own power.

He has promised to focus on the priorities of right-wing members, 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 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-Jewish and Islamophobic comments.

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

Earlier on Tuesday, McCarthy signalled a 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.”

His opponents also said they are in it for the long-run. “I stand firmly committed to changing the status quo no matter how many ballots this takes,” Scott Perry, one of the leading Republican dissenters, wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Democrats have described Republicans’ failure to agree on a speaker as a demonstration of the GOP’s failure to lead.

“None of this is good for our country. None of it,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote in a social media post.

Democrats could help McCarthy by voting for him or leaving the chamber for the next rounds of voting to lower the total of the votes, making it easier for him to attain a majority. But Congressman Eric Swalwell has ruled out the idea.

Article source: