McCarthy fights to be U.S. House speaker, Congress convenes

WASHINGTON-

US House Republicans courted chaos on Tuesday on the opening day of the new Congress, with GOP leader Kevin McCarthy clashing behind closed doors with a group of right-wing conservatives who refuse to give him their vote to become Speaker of the House.

Even before Congress was called, the scene unfolding on Capitol Hill was full of upheaval and uncertainty. The stalemate means McCarthy, after leading his party to a narrow Republican majority, was seeking political survival, trying to avoid being the first presidential candidate in 100 years not to win a first vote for the gavel.

McCarthy arrived at a closed meeting of House Republicans and vowed to fight to the end – even if it takes multiple tries in a high-stakes public spectacle that would underscore his party’s divisions and weaken his leadership in the early days of the new Congress.

“We came out 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. taking on detractors.

Lawmakers gathered Tuesday in a new era of divided government as Democrats relinquished control of the House after midterm election losses. With the Senate remaining in Democratic hands, House Republicans were eager to confront President Joe Biden’s agenda after two years of the Democratic Party’s monopoly on power in Washington.

But first, House Republicans must elect a president, the second successor to the presidency.

McCarthy is in line to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but he heads into the vote with no guarantee of success. He faces critics rooted in his own ranks. Despite attempts to cajole, harangue and convince them – even with the approval of former President Donald Trump – McCarthy has not succeeded.

“It’s a lot bigger than about one person,” said Doug Heye, a former senior aide to the Republican leadership. “It’s about whether Republicans will be able to govern.”

House Republicans huddled behind closed doors ahead of the ground action as newly elected lawmakers arrive for what is traditionally a holiday. Families in tow, members of the new Congress prepare to be sworn in to the House and Senate for the start of the two-year legislative session.

A new generation of Trump-aligned Republicans are leading the opposition to McCarthy, inspired by the former president’s slogan Make America Great Again. They don’t think McCarthy is conservative enough or tough enough to fight the Democrats. It recalls the last time Republicans regained a majority in the House, after the 2010 election, when the tea class ushered in a new era of tough politics, ultimately sending Speaker John Boehner into early retirement.

Some of the staunch Republican conservatives were challenging McCarthy in the private session. He pushed back, according to a Republican in the room, and granted anonymity to discuss the closed session.

Typically, it takes a majority of the 435 members of the House, 218 votes, to become the president. With a narrow majority of 222 seats, McCarthy can only afford a handful of detractors. A speaker can win with less than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Boehner did, if some lawmakers are absent or simply vote present.

But McCarthy has failed to win over a core – and potentially growing – group of right-wing Republicans led by the conservative Freedom Caucus party, 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 a speaker,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chairman of the Freedom Caucus and leader of Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 election, in an interview with The Associated. Hurry. “Unless something drastically changes, that’s where we’re going to be.”

Late Monday evening, McCarthy met with Perry in the president’s office on Capitol Hill, a Republican aide confirmed on condition of anonymity to discuss the private session.

But there didn’t seem to be a solution.

Perry said in a statement Tuesday, “Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to be Speaker of the House. He turned it down.”

Still, the prospect of holdouts wreaking havoc on Day One has launched a counteroffensive from Republicans who are frustrated that critics are threatening the workings of the new Congress.

A large but less vocal group of McCarthy supporters launched their own campaign, “Only Kevin”, as a way to silence the opposition and pledge their support only to him.

A viable challenger for McCarthy had yet to emerge. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-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.

The second House Republican, Rep. 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.

Once rivals, McCarthy and Scalise have become a team. Scalise’s office dismissed as “false” a suggestion Monday by another Republican that Scalise was making calls about the speaker’s race.

McCarthy has vowed to fight to the end, staging several rounds of careful floor voting — a sight not seen in Congress since the disputed 1923 Speakers’ Race.

“It would be nice if we could be ready to go on January 3,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is expected to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “But you know, if it doesn’t happen on the first ballot, that’s when it pushes things back.”

Without a speaker, the House cannot form itself fully — appointing its committee chairs, engaging in floor debates, and launching the investigations into the Biden administration that should be at the heart of Republicans’ agendas.

The upheaval in the House on the first day of the new session could stand in stark contrast to the other side of the Capitol, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will officially become the longest-serving party leader in history.

Although he’s in the minority in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 51-49 majority, McConnell could prove a viable partner as Biden seeks bipartisan victories in the new era of divided government. The pair were scheduled to appear together later in the week in the GOP leader’s home state of Kentucky to celebrate federal infrastructure investment in a vital bridge that connects Kentucky and Ohio.

McCarthy’s candidacy for president should have been a pretty sure thing. Affable and approachable, he led his party to a majority, having raised millions of campaign dollars and traveled the country recruiting scores of new lawmakers to run for office.

Yet McCarthy has been here before, abruptly dropping out of the speaker race in 2015 when it was clear he didn’t have Tory backing to replace Boehner.

One of the main demands of the holdouts this time around 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.

As McCarthy convened a New Year’s Day conference call with Republican lawmakers to unveil the new House Rules package, Perry sent a new letter of concern signed by eight other Republicans that the changes don’t go far enough. .

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