Rep. Kevin McCarthy falls short in vote for speaker as right-wing rebels stand firm; House recesses to Wednesday

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Right-wing rebels made Rep. Kevin McCarthy a three-time loser in voting Tuesday to become the new House speaker — ending Republican hopes for an orderly takeover of power in the lower house of Congress.

McCarthy (R-Calif.) lost 19 GOP votes on the first and second ballots for the speaker post and 20 on the third, leaving him well short of the 218 needed to win and making him the first leader of a majority party since 1923 to fail to win on the first ballot.

With no end in sight to the Republican standoff, lawmakers broke for the day and are to reconvene at noon Wednesday.

Under House rules, they can vote as many times as needed to reach a majority, a chaotic process with no immediate obvious path to resolution.

Republicans searched late Tuesday for a new path for McCarthy or a potential replacement who could bridge the wide gap between the GOP’s moderate and far-right factions.

Even Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the ultraconservative Georgia Republican, expressed frustration with colleagues who sank McCarthy’s chances in the first three votes, writing on Twitter that they were “playing Russian roulette” with the GOP’s majority.

Greene’s post underscored the depth of the challenge facing a Republican Party held hostage by its far-right flank and seeming to lack an alternative to McCarthy.

Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) won the votes of all 212 Democratic lawmakers in all three ballots, giving him far more votes than McCarthy.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) took 19 Republican votes on the second ballot and 20 on the third. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a favorite of McCarthy’s conservative detractors, won 10 votes in the first ballot.

All 434 members of the House were present at the beginning of the votes. One of the 435 House seats is vacant after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.).

The drama unfolded after McCarthy sparred with fellow Republicans in a stormy closed-doors Tuesday morning meeting.

“I’ve earned this job,” McCarthy reportedly barked at fellow Republicans in an expletive-laced speech. “We earned this majority, and goddammit we are going to win it today.”

McCarthy’s speech was interrupted by firebrand conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) who shouted “bulls—t,” in an outburst that could be heard outside the meeting room, according to reports.

The House must elect a speaker before carrying out any other business.

“No one in this body has worked harder for this Republican majority than Kevin McCarthy,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in a nominating speech.

Democrats lined up unanimously behind Jeffries, who won the mantle to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as their leader.

“Democrats are united by a [leader] who will put people before profits,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), calling Jeffries “the pride of Brooklyn” to thunderous applause.

Other Democrats, especially New York City representatives, sang Jeffries’ praises, with many referring to his Brooklyn upbringing, inspirational life story, eloquence and even devotion to the Yankees and Jets.

Pelosi, looking triumphant in a magenta suit, blew kisses as she cast her vote for Jeffries.

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) the newly elected Long Island lawmaker who has been dogged by controversial lies about his background, voted for McCarthy.

Because all 434 current House members were present on Tuesday, McCarthy could afford to lose no more than four Republican lawmakers.

The math is a bit uncertain because a new House speaker needs a majority of those actually voting — meaning McCarthy could still win if some fellow lawmakers on either side of the political aisle are absent, or simply chose not to vote.

Before Tuesday’s voting, McCarthy, a longtime establishment favorite, had offered a plethora of concessions to a group of hardline right-wingers in hopes of winning enough of the 222 GOP lawmakers.

McCarthy has been Republican House leader since 2019 when the GOP last lost control of the chamber during the 2018 midterm elections under former President Donald Trump.

He was considered a shoo-in for speaker even after Republicans scored only a surprisingly narrow win in the 2022 midterms.

Trump himself has backed McCarthy although it’s not clear whether he has strongly lobbied his backers to end the rebellion.

But several far right-wing members of the Freedom Caucus, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), say McCarthy represents the establishment of both parties that they are determined to uproot at any cost.

They are demanding the right to force no-confidence votes at any time, more power to win votes on proposed amendments and an ironclad commitment for an aggressive series of investigations into various right-wing causes.

Even if McCarthy wins, he likely will be severely wounded by the drama. His two Republican predecessors, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), were effectively hounded out of office by similar right-wing revolts.

The divisive show cast a pall over what should have been a day of celebration for Republicans who would like to claim some measure of political momentum from winning back the House and ushering in two years of a divided Congress for the second half of President Biden’s four-year term in the White House.

With Tim Balk