Members of the U.S. House of Representatives meet again Wednesday with the task of selecting the next speaker of the House, a day after Republican Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the job was met with rare opposition in a series of votes that saw him thwarted by his party’s most conservative members.
Tuesday’s session marked the first time in 100 years that neither a Republican nor Democrat won the House speakership on the first round of voting to become the leader of the 435-member chamber.
McCarthy failed to win the speakership in three rounds of voting, with 20 Republicans opposing him in the latest round. With a fourth round of voting on tap, it was unclear whether enough of McCarthy’s opponents would abandon their opposition to him, or whether new candidates might emerge.
Republicans will hold a narrow 222-212 majority in the House, with one current vacancy, requiring McCarthy, a California lawmaker for 16 years, to win at least 218 votes to claim the speakership. Under a provision in the U.S. Constitution, he also would become second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.
But 19 Republicans, many of them in recent weeks expressing the view that McCarthy was not conservative enough to lead House Republicans, voted for other Republican lawmakers in the first round of voting, including Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Jim Jordan of Ohio, two vocal opponents of Democratic President Joe Biden.
In the third round of voting, 20 dissident Republicans voted for Jordan, even though he nominated McCarthy as his choice to lead the majority Republican caucus in the new two-year House session.
Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, with all 212 Democrats voting for him, led the voting for the speakership although he has no chance of winning because no Republicans plan to vote for him. On the latest ballot, 202 Republicans voted for McCarthy, 16 short of the 218 he needed.
The 57-year-old McCarthy, a staunch conservative himself, has sought for years to lead the House. Over the past several weeks, he has met repeatedly with his Republican foes to secure their support for his speakership bid.
McCarthy offered to change the House’s governing rules in several ways, including to permit snap votes to declare the speakership vacant and select someone else if they did not like his policy stances or how the party caucus was conducting its promised investigations of Biden and his administration.
Whoever the Republicans eventually elect, McCarthy or someone else, will replace outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remains a House member and cast her votes for Jeffries.
Democrats, who have been locked in a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate the past two years, gained an edge in the nationwide congressional elections nearly two months ago and will hold a 50-49 majority in the upper chamber, even after onetime Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she is now an independent but would not change her voting philosophy. She usually has voted with the Democratic lawmakers and Biden.
Choosing a House speaker occurs even before representatives are sworn into office for their two-year terms. Lawmakers called out the name of their choice for House speaker from the floor of the chamber, and the same scenario will play out in the fourth round of voting, and possibly beyond that.