Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Cal., lost five more votes for House speaker on Thursday afternoon as the embarrassment for him and the Republican Party continued.
McCarthy had lost a trio of votes on Tuesday and three more on Wednesday, the first time in a century that the process has necessitated more than one ballot. After Thursday’s votes, it became the first time since 1859 that it has needed more than nine rounds. House members will continue voting indefinitely until a majority decision is reached.
McCarthy had lost ground over the first six rounds of voting, with 19 votes against him growing to 20 and one Republican, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, flipping a pro-McCarthy vote to “present,” further hurting his cause. The results were the same in the seventh through 11th rounds, with 21 GOP members voting against supporting him.
During the 10th vote, Punchbowl News reported that a deal between McCarthy and some of his opponents was “close” and that an offer was expected in writing Thursday night.
After initially backing Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as an alternative to McCarthy, those opposing him switched their support Wednesday to Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. Jordan has supported McCarthy throughout the process, while Donalds flipped his vote from McCarthy to himself. On the eighth ballot, some in the non-McCarthy bloc began voting for Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., who has been pro-McCarthy throughout the process.
“If I hear my name, it’s something I’ll have to think and pray about before deciding if it’s a job I’ll run for,” Hern told the Frontier, an Oklahoma outlet, prior to the eighth round.
Those opposing McCarthy have said that he is too representative of the status quo in Congress and that there is a need for new leadership. Prior to the ninth vote, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., formally nominated Hern, saying, “We need a leader that is not of the broken system. Someone who is not beholden to the lobbyists but to the people who sent us here. Someone who can unite our party and, most importantly, someone who can deliver on the promises that we have all made to the American people.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has been one of the most vocal antagonists to McCarthy and voted for former President Donald Trump as speaker on Thursday. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the speaker to be a member of the House, so Trump is technically eligible for the position. Trump has supported McCarthy’s bid, but his affirmation of support for McCarthy Wednesday morning did not sway any GOP defectors. Gaetz formally nominated and voted again for Trump again in the 11th round.
McCarthy attempted to woo his GOP critics by endorsing rule changes, including one that would make it easier for a smaller group of members to challenge leadership in a procedure known as vacating the chair. He made more concessions to the opposition over the course of Wednesday night.
McCarthy, who had lost a bid for speaker in 2015, urged the party to support him in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, saying, “I earned this job.” He and his allies have vowed to continue with as many ballots as it takes, but it’s possible he will be forced to withdraw, or that a different consensus candidate — such as the House GOP’s No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana — will emerge.
The last time the selection of a House speaker took more than one ballot was in 1923, when nine ballots were required for Frederick Gillett to take the gavel. In 1855, it took the 34th Congress 133 ballots and two months to settle on Nathaniel Prentice Banks.
Democrats were united behind New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who succeeded former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as their party’s House leader last month after she stepped down.
“This is their problem,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday of her Republican colleagues. “Their lack of respect for this institution. Their lack of respect for the responsibility that we all have to respect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Get the job done for the American people.” Asked how she would describe this moment, she added, “This is very sad.”
Speaking at the White House Wednesday morning, President Biden called the chaos among Republicans “embarrassing” and “not a good look,” adding, “I hope they get their act together,” before noting that his own focus was on “getting things done.”
“That’s not my problem,” Biden said. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long.”
On Tuesday the Senate selected a Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, as the first female president pro tem in the chamber’s history, replacing Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., who retired. The chain of succession for president is vice president, House speaker, then president pro tem. Murray joked Tuesday, referring to her place in line, “Well, today I’m second, because Kevin McCarthy’s not speaker.”