On Tuesday U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was denied the votes he needed to become the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on the very first vote held by the 118th Congress.
On the first ballot, McCarthy needed either 218 votes outright, or for some members of Congress to abstain and drop the number needed for a majority below 218.
Ten of the chamber’s 222 Republicans voted for U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), whose name was placed in nomination opposite McCarthy’s and that of U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who was elected as Democratic leader in an internal caucus vote last month. The defection of those seven took McCarthy below the number he needed to be named Speaker.
Nine other Republicans defected by casting votes for other conservative Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R.-N.Y.), U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
Many of those defecting Republicans include some of the more vehemently anti-LGBTQ members of Congress, including Biggs, U.S. Reps. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), the author of North Carolina’s controversial HB 2 “bathroom bill,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.).
With no one reaching the 218-vote threshold on the first ballot, a second vote for speaker was held, with Jordan speaking in favor of McCarthy’s nomination. But U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a harsh critic of the establishment of the Republican Party, nominated Jordan for speaker. The 19 defecting Republicans then followed Gaetz’s lead, and cast their votes for Jordan, denying McCarthy the speakership for a second time.
Much of the opposition to McCarthy appears to be ideologically based, opposing McCarthy for having been part of past Congresses that have voted for programs despised by Republicans. Still others’ opposition seems rooted in the desire by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus to allow a single member of Congress to put forth a “motion to vacate” the Speaker’s position.
Such a provision would likely inhibit any Republican Speaker from negotiating with the White House or the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate — unless President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer were willing to make significant concessions acceptable to members the Freedom Caucus — for fear of being deposed by a handful of their own party members.
With no one candidate for speaker gaining a majority on the second vote, a third vote was called for, and on that third ballot, McCarthy lost an additional vote — that of U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) — bringing his tally down to 201 votes, below Jeffries’ 212 votes, and with 20 dissident Republicans selecting Jordan.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional information on subsequent votes for Speaker following the failure to name one on the first ballot.
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