House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) holds his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in 2019. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Republican control of the U.S. House got off to a rocky start Tuesday when the party was unable to decide who should become speaker amid a sharp disagreement within the party’s more conservative faction.
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy didn’t clinch the backing of the 218 lawmakers he needed to become the head of the chamber during the first three rounds of ballots, marking the first time in a century the speaker’s election went to multiple ballots.
After the unsuccessful first day, where opposition to McCarthy increased as the day went on, House Republicans moved to adjourn until noon Wednesday.
The move gives McCarthy more time to negotiate with the 20 GOP lawmakers who oppose his bid for speaker, possibly changing the tally before voting resumes.
McCarthy received 203 votes to Democratic nominee Hakeem Jeffries’ 212 votes on the first ballot, with the remaining support going to other GOP lawmakers on the first ballot.
Athens Congressman Andrew Clyde was Georgia’s only Republican legislator to support someone other than McCarthy, voting for Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona in the first round. Georgia’s Democratic representatives all voted for Jeffries.
Firebrand Georgia conservative Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is typically a darling of the GOP’s MAGA wing, but she bucked her party’s hard-right Freedom Caucus with vocal support for McCarthy.
Shortly before the vote, Greene appeared on rightwing pundit Steve Bannon’s “War Room” to support her position before a skeptical Bannon.
“Let me tell conservatives across the country something, you better be careful when someone is saying, ‘trust us, we have a plan,’ and they won’t tell you what the plan is,” she said. “At least Kevin McCarthy has put out a plan, extensively, all over the media, all over his website, in every single press conference he gives, in every single interview he does, at least we know the public plan, and it’s something that 222 Republican members can get aligned behind and work our butts off to make it happen.”
“If anyone thinks that this is the hill to die on, they are absolutely wrong,” she said. “Because every single bill that we have to go in there, we have to fight for conservative principles, we have to fight for America first on these bills. And that is what I am dedicated to do. It’s not about the person we put in there as speaker, it’s about fighting for the right things for our country.”
McCarthy said after that vote that GOP leaders want to pass legislation addressing the border and the economy, but can’t do that until the party elects a speaker.
“We’ve certain members right now that think they can use a small majority to try to get themselves the gavel,” he said. “That’s not how it works.”
In addition to Clyde and Biggs, Reps. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Eli Crane of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Matt Rosendale of Montana were among the Republican members to vote against McCarthy on the first ballot. All of those GOP lawmakers voted for Biggs, after Gosar nominated him.
Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, Texas Rep. Michael Cloud, Florida Rep. Anna Luna, Illinois Rep. Mary Miller, Tennessee Rep. Andrew Ogles and Texas Rep. Keith Self voted for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan on the first ballot.
Oklahoma Rep. Josh Brecheen voted for Indiana Rep. Jim Banks. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris voted for New York Rep. Lee Zeldin. And Texas Rep. Chip Roy voted for Florida Rep. Byron Donalds. Banks, Zeldin and Donalds were not formally nominated for speaker during the first round of voting.
The 19 Republican lawmakers also voted against McCarthy during the second ballot, though all moved to voting for Jordan, who has said he doesn’t want the role and nominated McCarthy ahead of the second ballot.
During the third ballot, Florida’s Donalds joined the McCarthy opposition, writing in a tweet that the House should adjourn so Republicans can “huddle and find someone or work out the next steps.”
“When the dust settles, we will have a Republican Speaker, now is the time for our conference to debate and come to a consensus,” Donalds wrote. “This will take time, Democracy is messy at times, but we will be ready to govern on behalf of the American people. Debate is healthy.”
Good called for McCarthy to step aside following the first ballot, saying he expects Jordan to pick up ballots.
“The sooner he pulls out — for the good of the country, for the good of the Congress, for the good of the conference – the better everyone is and that way we can move together to try to find who the best person is that can reach 218,” Good said.
House Republicans have an especially slim majority with just a four-vote margin to pass bills across the floor, or elect a speaker.
The impact of the razor-thin majority and divisions within the Republican Party about policy goals and its future were on full display Tuesday, with conservative members split over whether McCarthy should lead the party during the next two years, or if another lawmaker was better suited to take the helm.
Gaetz said ahead of the first speaker vote the group of conservative GOP lawmakers wants a commitment from McCarthy for balanced budgets, a Texas border plan, term limits and individual votes on earmarks.
Gaetz also said that incoming House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, told Gaetz he would be kicked off the committee if he didn’t back McCarthy for speaker.
Boebert told reporters the group presented a plan to McCarthy on Monday evening that could have gotten him the votes needed to become speaker on the first ballot, but he rejected the offer.
“I have been working every day to unify the Republican Party for the American people,” Boebert said before the vote. “And yesterday we had a deal that was not a selfish deal in any way for Kevin McCarthy, to get him the gavel on the first ballot, and he eagerly dismissed us.”
Boebert said one of the policy changes that is especially important to her is a single member motion to vacate, which would allow any member of the House, not just a member of leadership, to call for a vote on the speaker.
“We were just told when we left this door, ‘We will give you single-member motion to vacate’,” Boebert said following the closed-door GOP meeting ahead of the floor vote.
Perry said the Tuesday morning meeting was “about a beat-down and a simulated unity in the room, which really doesn’t exist”
Perry also said the anti-McCarthy Republicans are being “threatened with being kicked off your committees if you don’t vote as you’re ordered to.”
“We took an offer to him last night of things that are completely and wholly within his purview,” Perry said. “If he wants to accept the offer, we’re happy to join the discussion.”
Greene weighs in
Greene said she viewed things differently. Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, she accused McCarthy’s GOP opposition of putting politics ahead of the good of the nation.
“If my friends in the Freedom Caucus, Matt Gaetz and others, will not take the win when they have it, they’re proving to the country that they don’t care about doing the right thing for America, they’re proving to the country that they’re just destructionists. That’s not what we need to do as a party. That’s why Republicans fail, and I’m really tired of it.”
She said Gaetz, Boebert and Perry approached McCarthy Monday and “made their own personal demands for which subcommittee chairmanships they want to have and who they want on committees and who they want taken off committees.”
“And guess what? The chairman of the Freedom Caucus negotiated nothing for me,” she added.
Greene was stripped of her committee memberships last year shortly after winning office, in response to bizarre conspiracy posts on social media, including pondering whether deadly school shootings were staged events and liking a post that called for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assassination.
She is angling for a spot on the Oversight Committee, which would allow the one-time outsider some say-so when it comes to expected investigations into conservative bugbears like Hunter Biden’s laptop and accusations of censorship on social media now that Republicans control the House.
On Bannon’s program, Greene pushed back against the suggestion that she is seeking a deal for more power just like the three she criticized.
“Every member of Congress, we get to fill out a form and write on the form which committees we would like,” she said. “I just made my requests like everyone else. I didn’t go in someone’s office and get behind closed doors and demand, ‘This is what I want in order for me to vote for you.’ I didn’t do that.”
Just ahead of the first vote, Greene declined to say how many votes McCarthy should sit for before letting the party come up with another nominee, but she sounded a defiant tone.
“He is not leaving. He is not leaving,” she said. “It is unbelievable. He just sat there and swore up and down to our entire conference. He’s not leaving, and neither is everybody else. So it’s time for my friends to take the win. Let’s do our jobs.”
But Greene’s most dedicated backers often say they appreciate the congresswoman for standing up to the elites in both parties and refusing to compromise her principles, and online reaction to her support of McCarthy has been harsh, as Bannon referenced after his interview with Greene.
“I can tell you right now in the chat, (people) who are Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s, not just biggest fans, biggest supporters, are — let’s say they’re not there yet,” he said with a laugh. “I think I can say they’re not there yet. They don’t want to take the win.”
D.C. ‘status quo’ criticized
The last speaker’s election to go for more than one ballot was in 1923, when Frederick Huntington Gillett, a Massachusetts Republican, didn’t secure the gavel until the ninth ballot, according to the U.S. House Office of the Historian.
Of the 14 speaker elections that have gone to multiple ballots, the 34th Congress, which began in 1855, held the most votes, reaching 133 before electing Nathaniel Prentice Banks to the role.
The U.S. House can’t begin any of its work for the 118th session of Congress until it elects a speaker, putting GOP plans for legislation on hold for the moment.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said the House GOP will bring “meaningful, ready-to-go” legislation in the House during the first few weeks of the 118th Congress as committees “organize and start moving legislation through regular order.”
Rescinding IRS funding
One of the first bills would rescind the billions of dollars Democrats included in their signature health care, climate change and tax package last year to increase staff and improve technology at the Internal Revenue Service.
The House will also vote on a resolution that would create a Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.
The 16-member panel won’t have any legislative authority, meaning its lawmakers won’t focus on writing bills or moving legislation through Congress. Its sole purpose will be “to investigate and submit policy recommendations on the status of the Chinese Communist Party’s economic, technological, and security progress and its competition with the United States.”
Another bill would prohibit the federal government from spending federal dollars on abortion with limited exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant person — a provision that already exists in the annual government spending bills.
The measure is somewhat unspecific about when doctors would be able to perform a life-saving abortion, defining it as a “case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”
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