Home Speaker’s Vote Enters Second Spherical: NPR

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to the GOP conference while tracking the Speaker of the House after a closed meeting Tuesday morning. Alex Brandon/AP Hide caption

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Alex Brandon/AP

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to the GOP conference while tracking the Speaker of the House after a closed meeting Tuesday morning.

Alex Brandon/AP

California GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy failed to secure the votes needed to become Speaker of the House in a first round of voting after 19 House Republicans voted against him.

McCarthy had the lion’s share of the Republican vote, but some Conservatives voted for Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and other candidates.

Democrat Rep. Hakim Jeffries of New York, nominated by Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, had more votes in the first round with 211 while McCarthy trailed by 202. Ten Republicans voted for Biggs and nine for other candidates.

McCarthy was nominated for the top tenure by House Republicans in November, but hours before his party takes control of the House of Representatives, he’s scrambling to secure a majority to get the gavel.

Previous speakers have faced defectors on the session’s first vote to install the supreme leader, but it is the first time in 100 years that a speaker has required multiple votes to win.

The California Republican faces a bloc of critics who want changes to the way the House of Representatives works. Although he has given in to many of their demands, he still lacks the necessary votes. Instead of celebrating their return to a majority on Day One, McCarthy and other GOP leaders considered how to respond to an open rebellion that would demonstrate division and cast doubt on their ability to govern.

Ahead of the vote that will decide his speakership — and ultimately his political legacy — McCarthy said he will keep fighting no matter how many votes it takes.

“I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor. I have no problem getting a record for most speaker votes, too,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday morning.

Concessions did not affect first-round voting

Republicans will hold a razor-thin majority — just four seats — after Democrats performed better-than-expected in contests in the 2022 midterm election. Of those who voted against McCarthy on Tuesday, many dissenters sought and received support for new rules to scrutinize legislation in the House of Representatives and to structure oversight investigations of the Biden administration.

McCarthy also agreed to change a rule that would allow a group of five members to offer a resolution to remove the speaker. He insisted for weeks that he would not agree to lowering the threshold of how many sponsors are needed for a “vacation of the chair motion” because it effectively weakens the speaker’s power. But McCarthy gave in to pressure from the right as he has such a slim lead and can’t afford more than a few defectors.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry, a leading McCarthy critic who co-signed a letter with nine other Republicans circulated on New Year’s Day, tweeted, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” He quoted the Letter stating, “The times call for a radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of the past and continued failure by Republicans.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Perry said he and other members planning to vote against McCarthy presented him with a plan Monday night outlining what he would need to do to win their support and, in turn, 218 votes . While McCarthy agreed to some of their motions, McCarthy turned down other demands, such as introducing a bill to impose term limits on representatives.

“We made him an offer last night with things that are entirely and completely his remit. He turned it down out of hand,” Perry said Tuesday morning.

Vote for speaker heads in multiple ballots

A first-round failure is embarrassing for the leading Republican, who has spearheaded his party’s efforts to regain the majority. McCarthy ran for speaker in 2015 when then-House Speaker John Boehner resigned, but abruptly withdrew from the race after conceding he didn’t have the votes to win. In the last few election cycles, McCarthy has led the political effort for House Republicans — raising about half a trillion dollars along with its affiliated super-PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and campaigning for GOP candidates nationwide. He and his allies predicted a “red wave” for the fall, but ended up with only a four-seat majority.

The public vote on the House floor showed the GOP divisions and the chaos. Before the vote, McCarthy’s allies insisted they will not vote for any alternate candidate and even if it’s messy they will stand by him.

But nothing else can happen in the House of Representatives until a Speaker is elected. It is the only leadership position mentioned in the Constitution.

There has been some debate about trying to rally around a consensus candidate, but McCarthy’s allies have pushed what they call an “OK” strategy — “Just Kevin.” The trial could drag on for hours or even days if McCarthy is unable to convince some of the holdouts to support him.

McCarthy’s No. 2, Louisiana Assemblyman Steve Scalise, has publicly endorsed McCarthy and predicted that he would be elected Speaker. But if McCarthy fails to convince enough members to support him, GOP members could turn to Scalise — or another conservative candidate — as a potential alternative.

Scalise, who is set to serve as Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, released an agenda for the first two weeks of January. He promised the House of Representatives would vote on measures to overturn the increase in funding to hire more IRS agents and bills dealing with border security and abortion. But until the speaker is elected, House committees cannot form, members cannot be sworn in to begin the new session, and the rest of business is at a standstill.

Katherine Swartz contributed to this story.

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