WASHINGTON — A staggering inability to choose a speaker Tuesday highlighted fissures within the Republican Party over strategy and vision, paralyzing the House and raising new questions about the future of the Republican Party.
“We have to make a decision today: Are we going to be the party of the radical 2%? Because that’s what it all comes down to,” said a frustrated Rep. Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican, after a caucus meeting. “Kevin McCarthy will be the Speaker of the House, and I don’t care if it’s the first ballot or the 97th.”
The standoff was demoralizing for a party that hoped to use the new majority to show Americans how it would govern, before asking voters to give the Republican Party control of the White House and Senate in the 2024 election. , the displays of dysfunction threaten to further alienate center-right and independent voters, who swung to the Democrats in 2022, leading to the GOP’s poor performance in the midterms and its current slim margin.
“I think it is a problem for the party. It absolutely is,” said former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, RS.C., co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, home to the rebels. “How is it not a problem for the party if we can’t even decide who will be our leader?”
Mulvaney, who fought to oust former President John Boehner in 2015, was baffled by the group’s tactics, calling it hypocritical to demand a rule that requires a majority of the Republican caucus to pass bills, but then refuses to accept that standard for choose a speaker
“This is completely absurd. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And I know a little bit about challenging House speakers,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney left the House in 2017 to take up senior positions in the White House of former President Donald Trump. Trump, who endorsed McCarthy, R-Calif., as a speaker, had little say in whether he would stick with him Tuesday: “We’ll see what happens. We’ll see how it all turns out,” he said. told NBC News.
The House adjourned Tuesday after three failed votes, the first time in a century that a speaker’s choice topped the first ballot, and with no clear path forward.
It portends further divisions in the narrow majority of the House, which will have to compromise with a Democratic-controlled Senate and President Joe Biden to keep government running and avoid economic crises. And it boded badly for Republican hopes of unifying a group of far-right and moderate members to push for conservative legislation.
“They hurt the team. They are giving us a black eye in the public,” Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, a moderate Republican in a district Biden carried in 2020, said of McCarthy’s critics.
For the rebels, many of whom hail from deeply red districts, sinking McCarthy is a justified rebuke to a Republican establishment that they say has long failed to live up to the expectations of its voters.
“In the short term, the goal is to get a better speaker than Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the leader of the campaign against McCarthy. “In the long run, it’s to deal a blow to a Republican system that is hostile to conservatives, that despises the Republican voter base that sends us to Washington.”
After two failed votes, No. 2 Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana pleaded with his colleagues to support McCarthy so the House could start promoting conservative goals like bolstering border security and energy independence.
“We won a majority talking about solving those problems. But we can’t start fixing those issues until we pick Kevin McCarthy as our next speaker,” he said in the room.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, said the 2022 election results show Americans are “crying out common sense” and want “a steady hand on the wheel.”
“It is important that we, as the majority of the House, and the only part of the legislative branch where Republicans have control, show competence and common sense, show that we are the adults in the room,” Gallagher said. “And if we spend this week or this month or the next two years fighting each other, I don’t think that effort will advance.”
For the third ballot, Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas rose to nominate Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who supports McCarthy, as speaker.
“This is about the future of the country. This is about the direction of the country,” Roy said, demanding that the caucus find a leader with a plan to stop “spending money we don’t have” and reduce debt. “I don’t want any more empty promises.”
Jordan has said he doesn’t want the job and called on his fellow Republicans to rally behind McCarthy for conservative victories.
Some Democrats mocked their Republican counterparts.
Others said things would only get worse. “This is going to be every day in the House Republican majority,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Twitter. “It is not just that they will not be able to govern. It is that they are going to be an embarrassing public derailment while they refuse to govern ”.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said Republicans who insist on opposing McCarthy have “profoundly miscalculated.”
“They have calculated that people will see them as these noble freedom fighters fighting for a cause. They can’t seem to tell what the cause is. That makes them look pretty stupid,” he said. “And they’re pretty fucking stupid.”
For Republicans, the standoff sets up a test of wills between a small right-wing faction and a larger group of mainstream Republican lawmakers, who fear they could be outdone on issues of law and governance if they don’t take on the rebels now. . .
But so far, there is little interest in partnering with Democrats to elect a consensus speaker and teach the far right a lesson.
“They’re going to have to get in our way or we’re going to have to find another way to get these votes,” Bacon said, arguing that the Republican Party can “go directly to one or two top people in the Democratic party and start making a deal” for a speaker. “If they prove to themselves that they can’t function as part of the team, then we’ll have to make that decision. But we are not there.
Good, when asked about that possibility, said he’s not worried: “I can’t imagine any Republican doing that.”
Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., one of McCarthy’s opponents, summed up the chaos Tuesday: “It’s more drama than raising seven kids.”