Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday night there was no scenario in which he would drop his bid to become Speaker of the United States House despite failing to win multiple rounds of the ballot, a historic defeat that brought the first day of the new Congress to an abrupt and messy end. .
McCarthy vowed to fight until the end – encouraged, he said, by a phone call from Donald Trump – despite a very uncertain path ahead of opposition from the more conservative members of the chamber. Needing 218 votes in the House as a whole, McCarthy got just 203 votes in two rounds — even less than Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the GOP-controlled chamber — and fared even worse in the third round, losing 20 fellow Republicans.
“Is today the day I wanted to have?” No,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill after a series of late-night closed-door meetings.
McCarthy said Trump wanted him to stay in the race and told him to end the Republican disarray in the House and bring the party together.
The former president “wants to see Republicans united so that we can accomplish exactly what we said we would do,” McCarthy said.
When asked if he would give up, McCarthy replied, “It’s not going to happen.”
It was a tumultuous start for the new Congress and underscored the difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House.
Tensions erupted within the new House majority and all other business stalled. Lawmakers’ families waited as what is normally a day of celebration descended into chaos, with children playing in the aisles or squirming in their parents’ arms.
Without a speaker, the House cannot fully form itself — swearing in its members, appointing its committee chairs, engaging in floor debates and launching investigations into the Biden administration.
The Chamber agreed to return at noon Wednesday to try again.
But it was not at all clear how the beleaguered GOP leader could bounce back after becoming the first House presidential candidate in 100 years not to win the gavel with his majority party.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, want to disrupt business as usual in Washington and have pledged to halt McCarthy’s rise without concessions to their priorities.
“Kevin McCarthy will not be a speaker,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., one of the holdouts.
As the spectacle of the vote dragged on, McCarthy supporters implored resisters to line up.
“We all came here to get things done,” second-tier Republican Rep. Steve Scalise said in a speech urging his colleagues to drop their protest.
Citing Democratic Chairman Joe Biden’s agenda, Scalise, himself a possible GOP compromise pick, said, “We can’t begin to address these issues until we elect Kevin McCarthy our next speaker. ”
But resisters forced a third and final ballot before Republican leaders quickly adjourned.
“The American people are watching, and that’s a good thing,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who named fellow conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as the alternate speaker.
It was the second time the Tories had fronted a reluctant Jordan, McCarthy’s rival-turned-ally, who had risen earlier to urge his colleagues – even those who supported Jordan – to vote for McCarthy.
“We have to rally around him, unite,” Jordan said.
In total, a hard core of 19 Republicans – then 20 – voted for Jordan.
Smiling through it all, McCarthy seemed determined to just try to wear down his colleagues. Earlier, he walked into the bedroom, posed for photos and received a standing ovation from many on his side of the aisle. He was nominated by third-ranking Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who said the Californian from Bakersfield “has what it takes” to lead the House.
But a challenge was quickly raised by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, a former conservative Freedom Caucus leader, who was named by a fellow conservative as the speaker.
The mood was tense, at least on the Republican side, as lawmakers rose from their seats in a lengthy in-person vote. Democrats were optimistic in casting their own historic votes for their leader, Jeffries of New York.
In the first round, McCarthy won 203 votes, including 10 for Biggs and nine for other Republicans. In the second, it was 203 for McCarthy and 19 for Jordan. In the third vote, McCarthy had 202 to Jordan’s 20. Democrat Jeffries had the most, 212 votes, but no candidate won a majority.
“The only thing that’s clear is he doesn’t have the votes,” Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., told CNN before joining those voting for McCarthy. “At some point, as a conference, we’re going to have to figure out who’s doing it.”
The impasse over McCarthy has been building since Republicans appeared on course to win a majority in the House in midterm elections in November. A new generation of Trump-aligned Republicans have led the opposition to McCarthy, believing he is neither conservative enough nor tough enough to fight the Democrats.
With the Senate remaining in Democratic hands, House Republicans are eager to take on Biden after two years of Democrat control of both houses of Congress.
After a private morning GOP meeting, a core group of conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Trump were furious, calling the meeting “beaten” by McCarthy’s allies and standing firm in their opposition to the GOP leader.
“There is one person who could have changed all of that,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chairman of the Freedom Caucus and leader of Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 presidential election.
The group said McCarthy declined the group’s latest request for rule changes during a Monday night meeting at the Capitol.
“If you want to drain the swamp, you can’t put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
McCarthy supporters also got angry. Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., leader of a more pragmatic conservative group, said “frustration was mounting” with the minority faction opposing McCarthy.
Early in the day, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi closed the final session, stepping aside for the new leadership of the House in her Democratic party, to a standing ovation from her colleagues on her side of the aisle.
The chaplain began with a prayer to bring the 118th Congress to life.
Democrats enthusiastically named Jeffries, who takes the party leadership, as their speaking choice — a typically symbolic gesture for the minority but one that has taken on new significance with Republicans at odds with each other.
“A Latino in this chamber is nominating a black man for our leader for the first time in American history,” Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the third Democrat, said in nominating his colleague.
But there has been only one negative story for Republicans. as McCarthy failed, even with Trump’s approval.
The next steps are uncertain. Scalise could be a next choice, a conservative well-liked by his colleagues and considered a hero by some after surviving a gunshot wound sustained during a 2017 Congressional baseball game practice.
A public speaking contest was last held in multiple rounds in 1923.
This year’s Republican standoff was in stark contrast to the other side of the Capitol, where Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell will officially become the longest-serving party leader in the chamber’s history. Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York will remain Majority Leader.
Although he’s in the minority in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 51-49 majority, McConnell could prove a viable partner as Biden seeks bipartisan victories in the new era of divided government. The two men are scheduled to appear together on State of Kentucky, the GOP leader, on Wednesday to celebrate the federal investment in the infrastructure of a vital bridge that connects Kentucky and Ohio.