WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failed in two rounds of voting to become House speaker Tuesday, a historic defeat with no clear way out as House Republicans dug in for a long, messy start for the new Congress.
Needing 218 votes in the full House, McCarthy got just 203 in both rounds — less even than Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the GOP-controlled chamber.
McCarthy had pledged a “battle on the floor” for as long as it took to overcome right-flank fellow Republicans who were refusing to give him their votes. But it was not at all clear how the embattled GOP leader could rebound after becoming the first House speaker nominee in 100 years to fail to win the gavel from his fellow party members on the initial vote.
Before the second vote, rival-turned-McCarthy ally, conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who got six votes in the first round, rose to urge his colleagues, even those who backed him as an alternative, to drop their opposition.
“We have to rally around him, come together” Jordan said of McCarthy.
But Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida followed with a vigorous re-endorsement of Jordan. underscoring the chaos within the party.
“I rise to nominate the most talented, hardest working member of the Republican conference, who just gave a speech with more vision that we have ever heard from the alternative,” Gaetz said.
Jordan got 19 votes in the second round.
Smiling through it all, McCarthy huddled briefly with aides then appeared intent on simply trying to wear down his colleagues. Earlier, he strode into the chamber, posed for photos, and received a standing ovation from many on his side of the aisle after being nominated by the third-ranking Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik, who said the Californian from gritty Bakersfield “has what it takes” to lead House Republicans.
“No one has worked harder for this majority than Kevin McCarthy,” said Stefanik, R-N.Y.
But on that first vote a challenge was quickly raised by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a conservative former leader of the Freedom Caucus, who was nominated by a fellow conservative as speaker. In all, 19 Republicans peeled away, denying McCarthy the majority he needs as they cast votes for Biggs, Jordan or others in protest.
The mood was tense, at least on the Republican side, as lawmakers rose from their seats, in a lengthy first round of in-person voting. Democrats were joyous as they cast their own historic votes for their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
In the final first-round tally, McCarthy won 203 votes, with 10 for Biggs and nine for other Republicans. Jeffries, the Democratic leader, won the most, 212 votes. But no nominee won a majority.
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