WASHINGTON (AP) — For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans kept the speaker’s chair in the U.S. House of Representatives empty Thursday as party leaders Kevin McCarthy failed again and again in an agonizing series of ballots to win enough GOP votes to take the chamber’s gavel.
The pressure built as McCarthy lost the seventh, eighth, and then the historic ninth, tenth and eleventh ballots, topping the number 100 years ago, in a protracted battle to choose a speaker in a contentious election. By nightfall, Republicans voted to adjourn and return Friday to try again, despite strong protests from Democrats.
With McCarthy’s supporters and enemies locked in a stalemate, 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 that wide disagreements about the future of the Republican Party. 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 fell before the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol 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 leader Hakeem Jeffries to speak.
McCarthy could be seen speaking one to one in whispered and animated conversations in the chamber of the house. His emissaries snuck up to the holdouts, and in the GOP Whip’s office down the hall, grueling negotiations continued. McCarthy stayed definitely to convince Republicans to end the crippling debate that has wrecked 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 unparalleled in recent political memory, the way forward remained highly uncertain. What began as a political novelty the first time since 1923 A candidate who didn’t win the gavel on the first vote has evolved into it a bitter feud of the Republican Party and deepening potential 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., 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 rule changes and other concessions were being negotiated made public.
“When confidentialities are abused and leaks are fixed, it’s even harder to trust,” he tweeted.
Republican officials repeatedly named Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, assuring 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 seen 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 course 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.
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 ballot papers always brought almost the same result, 20 conservative advocates He still refused to back 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 “simply presence,” and later to 200. With a GOP majority of just 222 seats, he had no votes to spare.
Thursday was a third long day. Ahead of the January 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 difficulties with 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 over two months, with 133 ballots cast during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.
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