US lawmakers gathered for a new era of divided government on Tuesday as Democrats relinquished control of the House after midterm election losses, with Republican Kevin McCarthy seeking to avoid becoming the top presidential candidate in 100 years of not getting initial support from his own colleagues.
McCarthy is in line to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House for the 118th session of Congress, but he heads into the vote with no guarantee of success. Despite the endorsement of ever-popular former President Donald Trump in the party, McCarthy faces critics rooted in his own ranks despite weeks of delays in rallying wavering members after midterm results were formalized of November.
The showdown could very well turn into a protracted fight in the House and a spectacle that divides the Republican Party.
“We went to the American public with a commitment to America to fight for them, not for a few members,” McCarthy said, as he entered a closed morning meeting of House Republicans.
Without a president, the House cannot form itself fully — appointing its committee chairs, engaging in debates and launching the investigations into US President Joe Biden’s administration that should be at the heart of Republicans’ agendas.
Typically, it takes a majority of the 435 members of the House, 218 votes, to become the Speaker. With a narrow majority of 222 seats, McCarthy can only afford a handful of detractors. A president can win with fewer than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Republican John Boehner have done in recent years, if some lawmakers are absent or simply vote present.
Every candidate in the past 100 years has passed in the first round. The record number of ballots to elect a Speaker of the House is 133 over a two-month period in the 1850s.
Alternative candidates are unclear
McCarthy, of California, raised millions of campaign dollars and traveled the country recruiting scores of new lawmakers to run for office, but failed to win over a core of right-wing Republicans led by the conservative Freedom Caucus, despite weeks of closed meetings and promised changes to House rules.
Nearly a dozen Republicans have publicly voiced their concerns about McCarthy.
“Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the 218 votes to be president,” said Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Freedom Caucus and leader of Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 election. changes drastically, that’s where we’re going to be.”
A viable challenger for McCarthy had yet to emerge. Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona, a former Freedom Caucus leader, was running against McCarthy as a conservative option, but he was not expected to win a majority. McCarthy defeated him in the November nominating contest, 188-31.
Second House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana would be an obvious next choice, a conservative well-liked by his colleagues and considered a hero by some after surviving a brutal shooting at a congressional baseball game in 2017 .
Scalise’s office rejected as “false” a suggestion Monday by another Republican that Scalise was making calls about the President’s race.
McCarthy and other prominent Republicans defied subpoenas
One of the main demands of the holdouts this time is that McCarthy restore a rule that allows any lawmaker to make a “motion to vacate the chair” — in short, to call a vote to remove the president from office.
Pelosi eliminated the rule after the Tories used it to threaten Boehner’s ouster, but McCarthy agreed to add it back – but at a higher threshold, requiring at least five lawmakers to sign the motion.
“I will work with everyone in our party to build a conservative consensus,” McCarthy wrote in a weekend letter to colleagues.
Read the committee’s final report from January 6:
The shift in party control means work undertaken by the Democratic-led committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol will cease, an effort scorned by McCarthy and almost every other House Republican.
In its final report, that committee recommended that McCarthy, Perry, Biggs, and incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan all face House Ethics Committee proceedings for defying subpoenas. talk to the panel.
Pelosi, who turns 83 in March, is stepping down from his leadership role for the Democrats. New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries will become the party’s Minority Leader.
In the Senate, Democrats retained their weak control over the chamber, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.