WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Republican Kevin McCarthy’s bid for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives ran into trouble in a round of votes on Tuesday, as hardline conservatives rebelled against him, leaving the new Republican majority in turmoil.
In what could prove to be a brutal showdown between hardliners and the overwhelming majority of House Republicans, McCarthy twice fell short of the 218-vote majority needed to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi for president. It was the first time in a century that the House had failed to elect a speaker in the first vote.
McCarthy also appeared to lack support as the vote entered a third round on Tuesday afternoon, with at least 20 Republicans voting for popular conservative Rep. Jim Jordan in an attempt to block McCarthy, even though Jordan did not run as candidate.
McCarthy showed no signs of withdrawing from the contest after the second round of voting, telling reporters, “We’re staying in it until we win…that will eventually change.”
A protracted election for the president could undermine House Republicans’ hopes of moving quickly on priorities, including investigations into President Joe Biden’s administration and family, as well as legislative priorities around the economy, the US energy independence and border security.
A deadlock would leave the House largely paralyzed and could force lawmakers to consider another candidate. In addition to Jordan, new Majority Leader Steve Scalise was considered a possible candidate.
McCarthy had been the House Minority Leader and sought to become president, a second-in-line position for the U.S. presidency, to attract strong opposition from his party’s right flank.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries twice edged McCarthy in Tuesday’s vote by 212 to 203. Hard-line conservative Rep. Andy Biggs ran against McCarthy in the first ballot and took 10 voice.
A majority of those voting, not a plurality, is required to determine a speaker.
In the second vote, popular conservative Jordan sought to rally support for California Republican McCarthy, only to find himself nominated as a candidate by McCarthy’s opponent Matt Gaetz of Florida.
“We have to rally behind him,” Jordan said in an impassioned speech in the House. “I think Kevin McCarthy is the right guy to lead us.”
Jordan, 58, is a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
A former college wrestler who represents an Ohio congressional district, Jordan was named as McCarthy’s rival on Tuesday but voted for him three times. Jordan is preparing to oversee the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the Justice Department and the FBI under Biden.
It was a disconcerting start for McCarthy’s new majority and highlights the challenges Republicans may face over the next two years as the 2024 presidential election nears. a small group of hardliners, who want to focus on defeating the Democrats and pushing various investigations.
Republicans won a slim majority of 222 to 212 in November’s midterm elections, meaning McCarthy – or any presidential candidate – will have to unify a restless caucus to win the hammer. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate.
Diehard opponents of McCarthy fear he is less deeply invested in the culture wars and partisan rivalries that have dominated the House — and more so since Trump’s years in the White House.
Ahead of the vote, McCarthy tried to persuade resisters at a closed-door party meeting, vowing to stay in the running until he secured the necessary votes, but many attendees walked out of the rally unsuspecting. be intimidated.
It was unclear whether McCarthy, who has the backing of a large majority in his caucus, would have the backing to defeat hardline opposition and win the presidency. Once before, in 2015, he tried to speak out and failed amid conservative opposition.
McCarthy has spent his adult life in politics — as a congressman, then a state legislator before being elected to the House in 2006. As president, McCarthy would be well-positioned to thwart Biden’s legislative ambitions .
But any Republican speaker will have the daunting task of managing an ever-right-leaning House Republican caucus with hardline leanings and — at least among some lawmakers — narrow Trump allegiances.
The record number of ballots to elect a Speaker of the House is 133 over a two-month period in the 1850s.
Democrats chose Jeffries to serve as Minority Leader after Pelosi, the first woman to serve as president, announced she would step down from her leadership role. She will remain in office as a representative.
Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Gram Slattery; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Will Dunham
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