U.S. House adjourns after Republican Kevin McCarthy suffers historic 3rd defeat in vote to become Speaker
The House votes to return Wednesday to try to break the impasses
Unable to elect Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as the new U.S. House speaker Tuesday, the Republicans adjourned for the day in disarray as the party tries to regroup from his historic defeat after a long, messy start for the new Congress.
The surprise end to day one shows there is no easy way out for McCarthy, whose effort to claim the gavel collapsed to opposition from conservatives. Needing 218 votes in the full House, McCarthy got just 203 in two rounds — fewer even than Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the Republican-controlled chamber. A third ballot was even worse, with McCarthy losing 20 votes as night fell on the new House GOP majority, tensions rising as all other business came to a halt.
The House agreed to return at noon Wednesday.
McCarthy had pledged a "battle on the floor" for as long as it took to overcome right-flank fellow Republicans who were refusing to give him their votes. But it was not at all clear how the embattled Republican could rebound after becoming the first House Speaker nominee in 100 years to fail to win the gavel from his fellow party members on the initial vote.
Without a Speaker, the House cannot fully form — naming its committee chairs, engaging in floor proceedings and launching the investigations of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration that are expected to be core to the Republicans' agenda.
"We all came here to get things done," said the second-ranking Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, in a rousing speech urging his colleagues to drop their protest.
Railing against U.S. President Joe Biden's agenda, Scalise said, "We can't start fixing those problems until we elect Kevin McCarthy our next Speaker."
Republicans nominate alternatives
It was a chaotic start to the new Congress and pointed to a difficult road ahead with Republicans once again in control of the House.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Donald Trump's MAGA agenda, want to upend business as usual in Washington, and were committed to stop McCarthy's rise without concessions to their priorities.
"The American people are watching, and it's a good thing," said Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who nominated fellow conservative Jordan of Ohio as an alternative for Speaker.
It was the second time conservatives pushed forward the reluctant Jordan, the McCarthy rival-turned-ally, who earlier had risen to urge his colleagues, even those who backed him, to vote for McCarthy.
"We have to rally around him, come together," Jordan said.
Jordan got six votes in the first round, 19 in the second round and picked up one more for a total of 20 in the third.
Smiling through it all, McCarthy huddled briefly with aides, then appeared intent on simply trying to wear down his colleagues.
Earlier, he strode into the chamber, posed for photos and received a standing ovation from many on his side of the aisle after being nominated by the third-ranking Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik, who said the Californian from Bakersfield "has what it takes" to lead House Republicans.
"No one has worked harder for this majority than Kevin McCarthy," Stefanik said.
But on that first vote, a challenge was quickly raised by Rep. Andy Biggs, a former leader of the Freedom Caucus, who was nominated by a fellow conservative as Speaker. In all, 19 Republicans peeled away, denying McCarthy the majority he needs as they cast votes for Biggs or others in protest.
Tension in the House
The mood was tense, at least on the Republican side, as lawmakers rose from their seats, in a lengthy first round of in-person voting. Democrats were joyous as they cast their own historic votes for their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the first Black person to lead a major American political party.
"We may have a battle on the floor, but the battle is for the conference and the country," McCarthy said earlier at the Capitol.
In the final tally of the first round, McCarthy won 203 votes, with 10 for Biggs and nine for other Republicans. Jeffries, the Democratic leader, actually won the most, 212 votes. But no nominee won the majority.
The final tally of the second round saw Jeffries with 212 votes, McCarthy again with 203, while Jordan received 19. In the third round, Jeffries remained at 212 votes, McCarthy received 202 and Jordan increased his vote to 20.
Typically it takes a majority of the House's 435 members, 218 votes, to become the Speaker. With just a slim 222-seat majority, McCarthy can afford only a handful of detractors. A Speaker can win with fewer than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Republican John Boehner did in recent years, if some lawmakers are absent or simply vote present.
Every nominee in the last 100 years has succeeded on the first ballot. The record number of voting rounds to elect a House Speaker is 133 over a two-month period in the 1850s.
McCarthy emerged from a contentious closed-door meeting with fellow House Republicans unable to win over detractors and lacking the support needed to become Speaker. He vowed to fight to the finish — even if it takes multiple tries in a public spectacle that would underscore divisions in his party and weaken its leadership in the first days of the new Congress.
A core group of conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Donald Trump's MAGA agenda were furious, calling the private meeting a "beat down" by McCarthy allies and remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Republican leader.
"There's one person who could have changed all this," said Republican Rep. Scott Perry, chair of the Freedom Caucus and a leader of Trump's effort to challenge the 2020 presidential election.
The group said McCarthy refused the group's last-ditch offer for rules changes in a meeting late Monday at the Capitol.
"If you want to drain the swamp you can't put the biggest alligator in control of the exercise," said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
"He eagerly dismissed us," said Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert.
McCarthy among Republicans who defied subpoenas
Lawmakers convened in a new era of divided government as Democrats relinquish control of the House after midterm election losses. While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, barely, House Republicans are eager to confront President Joe Biden's agenda after two years of a Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had gavelled closed the last session moments earlier, moving aside for new Democratic leadership, to a standing ovation from colleagues on her side of the aisle.
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The changeover in party control means that the work undertaken by the Democratic-led committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol will cease, an effort disdained by McCarthy and nearly all other House Republicans.
That committee in its final report recommended that McCarthy, Perry, Biggs and incoming House judiciary committee chair Jim Jordan all face House ethics committee proceedings for defying subpoenas to interview with the panel.
Pelosi, who turns 83 in March, is stepping aside from her leadership role for the Democrats. Jeffries will become the party's minority leader.
In the Senate, the Democrats retained their slim control over the chamber, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
- A previous version of this story stated that the Republicans are in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in more than a decade. In fact, the Republicans last controlled the House in 2018.Jan 03, 2023 6:02 PM ET
With files from CBC News and Reuters
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