McCarthy fails in GOP House speaker fight on 3rd long day

For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans kept the U.S. House Speaker’s chair empty Thursday as party leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed in an agonizing string of ballots to win enough GOP votes to seize the chamber’s gavel.

The pressure mounted as McCarthy, in a protracted battle to choose a speaker in a contentious election, lost the seventh, eighth and then the historic ninth, tenth and eleventh rounds of voting, surpassing the number of 100 years ago. By nightfall, Republicans voted to adjourn and return Friday to try again, despite strong protests from Democrats.

With McCarthy’s supporters and enemies deadlocked, the House of Representatives was unable to formally open the new session of Congress. And feelings of boredom, despair, and irritation seemed to become more and more evident.

One McCarthy critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, voted for Donald Trump – a symbolic but clear sign of the broad disagreements over the Republican Party’s future. He then went further and took the day from protest to absurdity by formally nominating the former president as speaker of the House of Representatives for the 11th ballot. Trump got a vote from Gaetz and caused laughter.

As the night before the second anniversary of August 1, 2021, the Capitol attack by Trump supporters trying to overthrow Joe Biden’s election, Democrats said it was time to get serious.

“This holy House of Representatives needs a leader,” said Democrat Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party’s leader Hakeem Jeffries for speaker.

McCarthy could be seen speaking one to one in whispered and animated conversations in the chamber of the house. His emissaries sided with the holdouts, and grueling negotiations continued in the GOP whip’s office down the hall. McCarthy remained determined to persuade Republicans to end the crippling debate that has blighted his new GOP majority.

McCarthy’s leadership team has presented a core group of Republican holdouts with a deal on paper for rule changes in exchange for their support, one of the opponents, conservative Republican Ralph Norman of South Carolina, said as he walked out of a late-day meeting. It included, among other things, the requirement of 72 hours for the publication of bills before the votes, although details were scarce.

Lest hopes get ahead of reality, he added: “This is the first round.”

Holdouts, led by the chamber’s Freedom Caucus, are looking for ways to reduce the powers of the speaker’s office and give ordinary legislators more leverage — with seats on key committees and the ability to draft and amend bills through a more open process.

“We have good talks and I think everyone wants to find a solution,” McCarthy told reporters hours earlier.

The House of Representatives, which constitutes one half of Congress, is essentially at a standstill, unable to initiate the new session, swear in elected members and conduct official business.

But despite endless talks, signs of concessions and a public spectacle like no other, the path ahead remains highly uncertain. What began as a political novelty, when for the first time since 1923 a candidate did not win the gavel on the first vote, has turned into a bitter Republican Party feud and a potential deepening of the crisis.

Jeffries of New York won the most votes in each ballot, but also narrowly managed to get a majority. McCarthy finished second and gained no ground.

McCarthy resisted mounting pressure to somehow find the voices he needed or to step aside so the House could fully open and proceed with the business of government.

The new Republican chairs of the House foreign affairs, armed forces and intelligence committees all said national security was at risk.

“The Biden administration is uncontrolled and there is no oversight of the White House,” Republicans Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner wrote in a joint statement. “We must not allow personal politics to endanger the safety and security of the United States.”

But McCarthy’s right flank opponents, led by the Freedom Caucus and allied with Trump, appeared emboldened by the standoff — despite the former president’s public backing of McCarthy.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a leader in Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 presidential election, claimed McCarthy could not be trusted and tweeted his displeasure that negotiations for rule changes and other concessions were made public became .

“When confidentialities are abused and leaks are fixed, it’s even harder to trust,” he tweeted.

Republican Party holdouts repeatedly cited the name of Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who asserted that the stalemate, increasingly racial and political, would continue. They also introduced Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern and shared the protest vote.

Donalds, who is black, is viewed as a rising party leader and GOP counterpoint to Democratic leader Jeffries, who is the first black leader of a major political party in the US Congress and is on track to one day become speaker himself.

Another black Republican, newly elected John James, nominated McCarthy on the seventh ballot as nominators became a roll call of the GOP’s rising stars. Newly elected for the 10th was Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, an immigrant from Mexico whose speech was accompanied by chants such as “USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of whom support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, are looking to upend business as usual in Washington and are committed to halting McCarthy’s rise without compromising on their priorities close.

McCarthy has agreed to many of his opponents’ demands to gain support.

One of the holdouts’ key demands is the reintroduction of a rule that would allow a single lawmaker to introduce a motion to evict the leader – essentially to call a House vote to oust the speaker. It’s the same rule that an earlier era of Tea Party Republicans threatened to impeach GOP Speaker John Boehner, and McCarthy has resisted reinstating it.

But McCarthy’s opponents don’t all have the same grievances, and he may never be able to convince some of them. Several Republicans appear unwilling to ever vote for McCarthy.

The ballots kept coming back nearly the same result, 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to endorse McCarthy, leaving him well short of the 218 normally needed to win the hammer.

In fact, McCarthy saw his support dwindle to 201 when a fellow Republican switched to “simple presence,” and later to 200. With just 222 GOP majorities, he had no votes to spare.

Thursday was a third long day. Ahead of the Jan. 6th anniversary, a protracted and divisive debate would underscore the fragility of American democracy after the attempted insurgency two years ago.

Colorado Republican Ken Buck put down several votes after saying Wednesday he had told McCarthy “he has to figure out how to make a deal to move forward” or eventually step aside for someone else.

The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to troubles ahead for Republicans, who now control the House, much like some previous Republican speakers, including John Boehner, have had trouble leading a rebellious right flank. The result: government closures, standoffs and Boehner’s early retirement.

The longest battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months during the pre-Civil War slavery debates, with 133 ballots.

AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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