GOP House speaker debacle continues as Kevin McCarthy fails to secure role for third day

GOP House speaker debacle continues as Kevin McCarthy fails to secure role for third day

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., exits a private briefing room while negotiating with lawmakers from his own party to become Speaker of the House January 5 at the Capitol in Washington. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

Late Wednesday night, after six unsuccessful votes to elect a speaker for the US House of Representatives, a frustrated Fox News host Sean Hannity brought Colorado conspiracy theorist and House Representative Lauren Boebert onto his show.

“Is this a game show?” He asked Ms. Boebert, one of the 20 Republican rebels who staged a high-profile showdown, refusing to support the consensus pick for speaker Kevin McCarthy while offering her own alternatives, including Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida. “How,” continued Mr. Hannity, “are we going to pick Jim Jordan one day, Donalds the next day, Trump the next day?”

By the end of Thursday, that impromptu proposal to nominate the former president had become a reality — but after 11 votes in a week that turned politics into a spectacle, Republicans still hadn’t chosen a speaker. In 150 years, such a standoff has not lasted so long.

The nomination for Donald Trump came from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, another of the 20 rebels. “A game show,” he wrote on Twitter, “would absolutely make a better speaker than Kevin McCarthy.”

But most of his Republican peers continue to disagree, leaving the House in a state of suspended animation over its inability to elect a speaker as GOP rebels have now barred their party from a slim majority for three days exercise, which they achieved in the medium term last year’s elections. They have demanded a series of concessions which Mr Gaetz said on Thursday would put Mr McCarthy in a ‘straitjacket’ as speaker – and also create legislative wrangling by demanding no-borrowing budgets.

Shribman: The impasse of the US Congress appears poised to continue indefinitely

But the Never Kevin group has so far been unmoved by Mr. McCarthy’s attempts to placate them with pledges to give far-right Republicans seats on influential committees, allow a vote on Congress’ term limits and allow a single congressman to vote to demand for the recall of a spokesman.

Indeed, before the House adjourned just after 8 p.m. Thursday, the third day of voting did not bring a single new vote to Mr. McCarthy, who is still well over a dozen short of what is needed.

With ballot after ballot yielding virtually no difference in outcome, politics remained performance—less game show, perhaps, than reality television.

It had clumsy attempts at comedy, with a second punch line provided by Ms. Boebert on the eighth vote (and second of the day) voting for “Kevin” – but not, she then clarified, Mr. McCarthy. She instead voted for Kevin Hern, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Republican Study Committee, a conservative party caucus.

There was pathos as Florida Republican Brian Mast wiped away tears as he warned, “I’m afraid we’re not living up to what some of our friends and brothers in arms literally gave their lives for.”

It had points to hold, with the failed 11th vote bringing the current impasse to a tie as the fifth-longest attempt in US history to win a speaker.

Minor complaints were raised when Dan Bishop, a North Carolina Republican, railed against a colleague who had “quoted and tweeted a Fox News story” who he said falsely reported that he was ready to resign, if he doesn’t get his way on the speaker vote.

It was on the hunt for new political glory, and freshman-elect John James, a Michigan Republican, stood at the podium before his new congressional peers — and everyone watching on screens — to tell his story of his rise to Congress from Slave Roots and Promises to Tell, “We’ll be back on the right side of history.”

Sharp-tongued Chaplain Margaret Kibben could pass as a colorful comment, whose opening prayer described a “tangle of indecision” and pleaded for a divine presence to “calm the cacophony of advice and calm the storms of disagreement”.

There have been family crises, with one Republican representative unable to meet a new child while voting continued and another worried about missing his mother’s funeral if the impasse isn’t resolved. A third had to leave for medical reasons.

It even had an injury when Politico reporter Jordain Carney announced on Twitter Thursday that she was reporting from the sidelines after dislocating her kneecap in a scrum. “Sometimes you own the convention beat and sometimes the convention beat owns you,” she lamented.

Most importantly, it had pictures, as C-SPAN cameras — still controlled by the Legislative Affairs Network rather than a yet-to-be-elected speaker — added production value not normally seen in the Chamber. “C-SPAN got out of hand,” noted New York Magazine.

Between the yawns, the man gesturing with a cane, and the clerks struggling to impose decency on a chamber not yet fully in session — “there are no rules,” Montana Republican Matt Rosendale once said —, the cameras caught the huddles and power chats marked the unfolding drama.

This included a lively encounter between Mr. McCarthy and Andy Ogles, a Tennessee Republican who was one of the holdouts. Her words were inaudible, but her body language told the story of the day, as Mr Ogles sat while Mr McCarthy stood, leaning forward and slamming the holdout on his lapel in an apparent attempt to persuade him to change position .

Thirty-five minutes later, Mr. Ogles got up and cast his vote again for Florida Republican Byron Donalds, then returned to his seat with a flash of a smile.

Off-camera, reporters watched the comings and goings of Tom Emmer’s office, the whiplash of the Republican House where intense negotiations continued for a deal, offered in writing, that could resolve the speaker’s impasse.

Meanwhile, back on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Republican rebels tried to add a cheerful glow to the week’s chaos and resentment.

“We’ve had more discussions and debates in the past three days than I’ve attended on this floor in the past two years. And it’s healthy,” said Mr. Rosendale, one of the 20 dissidents.

Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse drew a different conclusion. “It’s a sad day for this institution,” he said, warning that the speaker’s impasse bodes worse for majority Republicans.

Mr. Neguse himself was sworn in four years ago, during the longest government shutdown in US history. “Why? Because of the dysfunction and chaos across the aisle.”

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