WASHINGTON — Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and his conservative detractors will clash for the second day in a row as lawmakers prepare to resume voting Wednesday for the next House speaker.
A group of 20 far-right rebels banded together Tuesday and prevented McCarthy from getting the necessary 218 votes.
Three separate ballots were held, and each time McCarthy, a longtime member of the Republican leadership, came up short. It was the first time in 100 years that the speakers’ vote was cast on multiple ballots.
“This is about saving the country and getting somebody to cut back and put us on a financially sound path,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C., one of the so-called Never Kevins who voted against McCarthy. “I’ll sit here for six more months, it doesn’t matter.”
But McCarthy has earned the support of 202 Republicans, more than 90% of the 222-member Republican Conference, and the number of his detractors has remained relatively stable. His allies promise to hold roll-call votes until the opposition relents.
“You can’t accommodate a small group that is essentially holding you hostage, and that’s what’s happening here, we’re not going to do it,” moderate Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said after Tuesday’s round of ballots.
Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, the new head of the business-friendly Main Street Republican Caucus, said: “I am as confident now that Kevin McCarthy will become Speaker of the House as I was a week ago. and one a month ago.”
Other McCarthy allies have expressed frustration with conservative firebrands for exposing internal divisions in the GOP at the very moment Republicans take control of the House after four years in the minority. Without a speaker, House lawmakers cannot be sworn in, committees cannot be formed and GOP investigations into the Biden administration cannot begin.
Essentially, there is no functioning House of Representatives until a speaker is elected. The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon Wednesday for a new round of voting.
“Everyone is upset, agitated. The people who are doing this, whom I consider many of my good friends, need to know when [to] accept victory,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said of the concessions conservatives had wrung from McCarthy.
“So take most of the victory and go with it and build on it for later.”
In the third and final ballot Tuesday, the 20 Republican defectors cast their votes for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, even though he endorsed McCarthy and gave a nomination speech for him. Jordan later told reporters that he only wanted to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the new Congress.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican close to Jordan who has endorsed McCarthy, said it was inconsiderate and appalling for defectors to try to push Jordan into the speaker’s office.
“Jim Jordan says, ‘I’m supporting Kevin McCarthy,’ and he goes out on the House floor and says it and votes for him repeatedly,” Greene told reporters. Twenty “Republicans don’t even respect Jim Jordan enough to respect what he wants to do.”
The notable fight on the floor has pitted Trump loyalists against each other as former President Donald Trump makes another bid for the White House. McCarthy, Jordan and Greene have been some of Trump’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill, but now they are up against Trump supporters like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and newer leaders of the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus, Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. and Andy Biggs from Arizona.
Trump, who previously endorsed McCarthy as a speaker and had been making calls on his behalf, did not say anything about his endorsement.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly if he was staying with McCarthy in a brief phone conversation after Tuesday’s vote.
But after speaking with McCarthy that night, Trump on Wednesday morning gave a full endorsement of the GOP leader and called on House Republicans to back him.
“[I]The time has come for all of our GREAT Republican members of the House to VOTE KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE VICTORY.” trump wrote in a Truth Social post Wednesday morning that also disparaged former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“REPUBLICANS, DON’T TURN A BIG WIN INTO A GIANT EMBARRASSING LOSS. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE, YOU DESERVE IT. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB, JUST LOOK!”
As he left the Capitol Tuesday night, McCarthy continued to project optimism, suggesting that he is exploring a path to victory that would include 213 votes in his favor instead of 218. In the scenario McCarthy outlined, he would need to trade 11 votes if a un handful of legislators were going to vote present.
“I think we’ll find a way to get there. This is a healthy debate,” McCarthy told reporters. “It may not happen the day we want, but it will happen… I think at the end of the day, we’ll get everyone.”
Bacon warned that if conservatives deepen their opposition to McCarthy, delaying House business in the process, moderates will have to cross the aisle to try to reach an agreement with Democrats on a consensus speaker.
“You can have a few people you can work with, but I think in the end you just go to one or two top people in the Democratic Party and start making a deal,” Bacon told reporters.
“If they prove to themselves that they can’t function as part of a team, then we’ll make that decision. But we’re not there. I think Kevin still has a lot of track.”