McCarthy scrounges for votes as G.O.P. fight over speaker enters second day

January 4, 2023

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California grasped on Wednesday, January 4, for the votes he needs to become speaker after failing three times to win the post, as Republicans began their second day in control of the House without a leader and deadlocked about how to move forward amid a hard-right rebellion, reports The New York Times. 


McCarthy’s successive defeats on Tuesday marked the first time in a century that the House has failed to elect a speaker on the first roll call vote, and it was not clear how or when the stalemate would be resolved. After adjourning abruptly on Tuesday with no leader, the House was set to reconvene at noon on Wednesday to try to resolve the impasse. 


The Republican leader and his allies were working behind closed doors trying to secure the votes. McCarthy said he had spoken to former President Donald Trump, who had endorsed him but stayed silent on Tuesday throughout his humiliating series of defeats on the House floor.


“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” Trump wrote in a social media post on Wednesday. He beseeched Republicans not to “TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT.


“Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB—JUST WATCH!” Trump added. 


For now, a mutiny waged by ultraconservative lawmakers who for weeks have held fast to their vow to oppose McCarthy has paralyzed the chamber at the dawn of Republican rule—delaying the swearing in of hundreds of members of Congress, putting off any legislative work, and exposing deep divisions that threatened to make the party’s House majority ungovernable.


“I’m staying until we win,” McCarthy told reporters between the second and third votes on Tuesday. “I know the path.” 


House precedent dictates that members continue to vote until someone secures the majority needed to prevail. But until Tuesday, the House had not failed to elect a speaker on the first roll call vote since 1923, when the election stretched for nine ballots.


It was not clear how long it might take for Republicans to resolve their stalemate this time, or whether McCarthy had a strategy for coming back from an embarrassing series of repudiations. His supporters suggested he was willing to drag out the process for some time, recognizing that his political career was on the line. 


“I think that Kevin knows that this is his last shot, and so he’s going to play this as long as” he can, said Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, who voted for Mr. McCarthy three times on Tuesday. “He withdrew once so that he would have this chance. He’s not going to have this chance again.”


No viable challenger has emerged, but if McCarthy continues to flounder, Republicans could shift their votes to an alternative, such as his No. 2, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana.On Tuesday, right-wing Republicans coalesced behind Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, as an alternative to McCarthy, but Jordan—a onetime rival who has since allied himself with McCarthy—pleaded with his colleagues to unite instead behind the California Republican.


But the party has so far refused to do so. The failed votes on Tuesday showed publicly the extent of the opposition McCarthy faces. With all members of the House present and voting, McCarthy needs to receive 218 votes to become speaker—leaving little room for Republican defections since the party controls only 222 seats.


He fell short again and again, drawing no more than 203 votes—far below a majority and fewer than the votes received by Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader whose caucus remained united behind him.


Research contact: @nytimes