WASHINGTON — For the first time in almost 100 years, members of the House of Representatives left the floor on the first day of a new Congress, not knowing who the speaker of the House would be.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) failed on three separate votes on the House floor to secure the needed majority of all House members to give him the speaker’s gavel, blocked by a group of right-wing Republicans and all House Democrats.
In the first two votes, McCarthy lost 19 Republicans, falling 15 votes short of the 218 he needed to win. The third time, 20 Republicans voted for someone other than McCarthy.
Though it may not be a permanent setback, McCarthy’s failure to win the speakership on the first vote is historic. The House hasn’t needed more than one ballot to elect a speaker since December 1923, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The House can’t function without a speaker, so members will have to cast ballots again. The three votes took place over a period of four hours. At least one more vote will come Wednesday after lawmakers agreed by voice vote to adjourn until noon.
McCarthy knew he would lose the first vote. In a party meeting Tuesday morning, McCarthy told his colleagues that he’d earned the job — and that the House would keep voting until he wins.
“We may have a battle on the floor, but the battle is for the conference and the country, and that’s fine with me,” McCarthy told reporters after the meeting.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) offered himself as an alternative to McCarthy, even though he badly lost an internal election among the House Republican Conference in November. Biggs got 10 votes from Republicans on the first ballot, while Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) got most of the rest of the anti-McCarthy GOP members.
On the second ballot, the Republicans who oppose McCarthy all supported Jordan, even though Jordan himself has enthusiastically backed McCarthy. The switch to Jordan had no effect on the outcome. On the third ballot, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) voted for Jordan after having voted for McCarthy the first two times.
Democrats, for their part, all voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who is slated to become the minority leader. Democrats murmured and laughed each time a Republican announced a vote for someone other than McCarthy.
Biggs has led the anti-McCarthy faction along with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, plus Reps. Bob Good (R-Va.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), all of whom belong to the caucus.
Good said Monday that a consensus candidate would emerge on a second ballot but declined to name that person in a Fox News interview. Apparently, the alternative candidate was Jordan, even though Jordan has no path to the speakership because moderates won’t support him. Good said the process could last a few hours ― or days.
McCarthy’s strategy seems to be to hold votes until his detractors back down on their own or buckle under pressure from the rest of the conference. But since he lost an additional vote on the third ballot, this approach does not seem to be working.
“I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor,” McCarthy said before the vote. “I don’t have a problem getting a record for the most votes for speaker, too.”
Ostensibly, the Freedom Caucus members have challenged McCarthy because he won’t fight hard enough against President Joe Biden’s administration, and they want to empower rank-and-file lawmakers in a chamber that for years has been dominated by the speaker, who controls when the House votes and what bills reach the floor.
But the group is better known for causing chaos and openly advocating for government shutdowns. Biggs and Perry sought to help former President Donald Trump subvert the will of the American people when they voted to overturn the 2020 election results. To that same end, Norman wanted the White House to declare “Marshall Law.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Nicholson.