January 3

By Kaia Hubbard

A group of House Republicans three times denied Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker on Tuesday in the first failure to secure the gavel on an initial vote in a century, marking a chaotic start to the new Congress.

The chamber adjourned on Tuesday evening to regroup, as the GOP appeared to be in disarray without a clear path forward. New rounds of voting are expected Wednesday until McCarthy – or another individual – secures a majority of the votes from present House members. And despite an unclear path forward, the California Republicans’ fight for the speakership does not appear to be over. He and his supporters have pledged to stop at nothing to secure the job.

“I’m not going anywhere,” McCarthy told reporters ahead of the votes on Tuesday.

Absent a speaker, the House is at a standstill not seen in decades, without the ability to swear in the new Congress, set committees and rules and begin legislating. But onlookers acknowledged on Tuesday that even if the lower chamber could not come to an agreement on a speaker, working together to get anything done will likely prove difficult.

With a razor-thin majority in the House, only four detractors were needed to derail McCarthy’s ambitions. On the first and second vote, there were 19. Indeed, in a stunning outcome, incoming Democratic Majority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York secured more votes than McCarthy as his party remained united – just shy of the majority of the chamber needed for the position. And while the second vote saw the same detractors, they largely shifted their support from Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida became the first McCarthy supporter to defect in the third round of voting, siding with Jordan and adding to the list of those who oppose his bid.

Among the Republicans voting for a speaker other than McCarthy were Biggs, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Rep. Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Rep. Mike Cloud of Texas, Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Rep. Brandon Ogles of Tennessee, Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, and Rep. Keith Self of Texas, some of whom have remained quiet about their disapproval in recent weeks while others have made their disappointments in the California Republican clear.

“Those of us who will not be voting for Kevin McCarthy today take no joy in this discomfort that this moment has brought,” Gaetz – who has been among the leaders of conservative detractors – told reporters on Tuesday. “But if you want to drain the swamp, you cannot put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise.”

The California Republican’s bid for speaker has been murky since a meager showing from his party in the midterm elections instead of a “red wave” and an onslaught of intra-party accusations about who is to blame that have followed. And despite last-ditch efforts to unite his conference, his detractors have remained steadfast.

Though McCarthy won his party’s nomination handily in November, with 188 votes to 31 votes for his opponent, Biggs, the showdown foreshadowed McCarthy’s upcoming troubles to attain the speakership. On Tuesday, Biggs secured just 10 votes on the first ballot. But with support from the majority of the chamber necessary – Democrats included – to become House speaker, those defections cost McCarthy the job – for now.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York initially nominated McCarthy for the speakership on Tuesday, citing his leadership over the last several years.

“No one in this body has worked harder for this Republican majority than Kevin McCarthy,” Stefanik said from the House floor. “Kevin knows what we stand for, he knows when we should engage in the fight and he knows how to build consensus.”

But the small group of far-right lawmakers at the heart of opposition to McCarthy for speaker – largely aligned with former President Donald Trump, who has conversely backed McCarthy – have cited a mistrust in the California lawmaker among the conference.

“It is true that we struggle with trust with Mr. McCarthy. Because time and again his viewpoints, his positions, they shift like sands underneath you,” Gaetz told reporters on Tuesday, adding that “there’s very little difference between Nancy Pelosi and her California delegation mate that seeks the gavel.”

After McCarthy failed on the first ballot, Gaetz nominated Jordan for the speakership, calling the Ohio Republican the “most talented” and “hardest working member” of the conference.

But Jordan urged his colleagues to support McCarthy, pointing to the differences he and the California Republican share while emphasizing the need to unite the conference.

“The differences we may have – the differences between Joyce and Jordan or Biggs and Bacon – they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the left,” Jordan said as he nominated McCarthy for the second ballot. “I think Kevin McCarthy’s the right guy to lead us.”