McCarthy fails for 3rd day in bitter GOP House speaker fight
WASHINGTON (AP) — For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans retained the US speaker’s seat
WASHINGTON (AP) — For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans kept the speaker’s chair in the U.S. House of Representatives empty Thursday as party leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed to win enough GOP votes to slam the chamber in an agonizing string of ballots conquer hammer.
Glimmers of a deal with far-right holdouts began to appear long after dark. But the day’s record was grim: McCarthy lost the seventh, eighth, and then the historic ninth, tenth and eleventh ballots, surpassing the number of 100 years ago in the last protracted struggle to choose a speaker. By nightfall, Republicans voted to adjourn and return Friday to try again, despite strong protests from Democrats.
The California Republican soaked up the moment with no visible concern: “Apparently I like making history.”
The contours of a deal with holdouts from the conservative Freedom Caucus were beginning to take shape, including some of the key rule changes they have been seeking for months. These changes would reduce the power of the Speaker’s Office and give ordinary legislators more leverage in drafting legislation.
At its core is the reinstatement of a House Rule that would allow a single lawmaker to table a motion to “vacate the presidency,” essentially demanding a vote to overthrow the Speaker — a move McCarthy had opposed, for being held over the head by Republican Speaker John Boehner and forced him into early retirement.
Even if McCarthy is able to secure the votes he needs, he will emerge as a weakened speaker who has ceded some power and is in constant danger of being voted out by his opponents. But he might also be encouraged as a survivor of one of the more brutal battles for the Hammer in US history.
Other wins for the holdouts include provisions in the proposed deal to expand the number of seats available on the House Rules Committee, mandate 72 hours for bills to be released before votes, and promise to attempt a constitutional amendment imposing federal limits on the Number of terms a person could serve in the House of Representatives and Senate.
The chair of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus, Pennsylvania-based Scott Perry, expressed receptiveness, tweeting Ronald Reagan’s adage: “Trust, but verify.”
Lest hopes get ahead of reality, South Carolina conservative holdout Ralph Norman said, “This is the first round.”
“We’ve made some progress,” McCarthy said, brushing off questions about the lengthy, messy process. “That’s not how you start, that’s how you end.”
With McCarthy’s supporters and enemies stuck in a stalemate, the House cannot fully open the new session, essentially at a standstill, unable to swear in elected members and conduct official business. And feelings of boredom, desperation and anger seemed to become increasingly evident on Thursday.
One McCarthy critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, voted for Donald Trump – a symbolic but clear sign of the broad disagreements over the Republican Party’s future. He then went further and took the day from protest to absurdity by formally nominating the former president as speaker of the House of Representatives for the 11th ballot. Trump got a vote from Gaetz and caused laughter.
As the night fell before the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters trying to overthrow Joe Biden’s election, Democrats said it was time to get serious. The divisive speaker’s struggle only underscored the fragility of American democracy exposed by this attack.
“This holy House of Representatives needs a leader,” said Democrat Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party’s leader Hakeem Jeffries for speaker.
McCarthy could be seen speaking one to one in whispered and animated conversations in the chamber of the house. His emissaries snuck up to the holdouts, and in the GOP Whip’s office down the hall, grueling negotiations continued. Through defeat after defeat, McCarthy remained determined to persuade Republicans to end the crippling debate his new GOP majority has shattered.
What began as a political novelty, when for the first time since 1923 a candidate did not win the gavel on the first vote, has turned into a bitter Republican Party feud and a potential deepening of the crisis.
New York Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries won the most votes in each vote, but also narrowly managed to get a majority. McCarthy finished second and gained no ground.
The pressure on McCarthy has grown with each passing day to somehow find the voices he needs or step aside. The new Republican chairs of the House foreign affairs, armed forces and intelligence committees all said national security was at risk.
“The Biden administration is going unchecked and there is no oversight of the White House,” Republicans Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner wrote in a joint statement. “We must not allow personal politics to endanger the safety and security of the United States.”
But McCarthy’s right-wing critics, led by the Freedom Caucus and allied with Trump, seemed emboldened — despite the former President’s public backing of McCarthy.
Republican officials repeatedly mentioned the name of Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, ensuring the continuation of the standoff, which brought with it growing undercurrents of race and politics. They also introduced Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern and shared the protest vote.
Donalds, who is black, is seen as a rising party leader and GOP counterpoint to Democratic leader Jeffries, who is the first black leader of a major political party in the US Congress and is on course to one day become speaker himself.
Another black Republican, newly elected John James, nominated McCarthy on the seventh ballot as nominators became a roll call of the GOP’s rising stars. Newly elected for the 10th was Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, an immigrant from Mexico whose speech was accompanied by chants such as “USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of whom support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, are looking to upend business as usual in Washington and are committed to halting McCarthy’s rise without compromising on their priorities.
But McCarthy’s opponents don’t all have the same grievances, and he may never be able to convince some of them.
The ballots kept coming back nearly the same result, 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to endorse McCarthy, leaving him well short of the 218 normally needed to win the hammer.
In fact, McCarthy saw his support dwindle to 201 when a fellow Republican switched to “simply presence,” and later to 200. With a GOP majority of just 222 seats, he had no votes to spare.
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties with Republicans, who now control the House, much like some previous Republican speakers, including John Boehner, have had trouble leading a rebellious right flank. The result: government closures, standoffs and Boehner’s early retirement.
The longest battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for over two months, with 133 ballots cast during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.
AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
Lisa Mascaro and Farnoush Amiri, The Associated Press