By David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Republican Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday vowed to stay in the race to be the powerful speaker of the US House of Representatives, hours after hardliners in his party repeatedly blocked his candidacy to lead theirs. new majority.
On the first day of what could prove to be a brutal showdown between some 20 hardliners and the other 202 Republican caucus members, McCarthy failed in three ballots to win the 218 votes needed to become speaker, a second-tier role in line with the Oval Office after the vice president.
It was a disconcerting start for the new Republican majority and highlights the challenges the party could face in the next two years, ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Their narrow majority of 222-212 gives more weight to a small group of extremists, who want rule changes that would give them more control over the speaker and more influence over the party’s approach to spending and debt.
Late Tuesday evening, McCarthy told reporters that former President Donald Trump had called him and reiterated his support. Trump backed McCarthy in the race and remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party.
McCarthy, 57, from California, knew he faced an uphill battle ahead of Tuesday’s vote and vowed to continue to force votes. But the house voted Tuesday night to adjourn until noon ET (1700 GMT) on Wednesday, a move that would give Republicans time to debate other candidates.
Conservative Congressman Jim Jordan, 58, from Ohio, got 20 votes in the last ballot of the day, far from the 218 threshold to become speaker but enough to stop McCarthy.
“I think Kevin knows this is his last shot,” said Rep. Kenneth Buck, who had voted to support McCarthy. He noted that McCarthy had previously tried in 2015 to be a speaker and failed in the face of conservative opposition, adding: “He won’t get that chance again.”
A sustained election for the president could undermine House Republicans’ hopes of moving forward quickly in the investigation into Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration and legislative priorities that include the economy, US energy independence and security of borders.
The top House Democrat, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, beat McCarthy in all three votes. In the final tally of the day, Jeffries led McCarthy 212 to 202 votes. A majority of those voting, not a plurality, is required to determine a speaker.
A deadlock would leave the House largely paralyzed and could force lawmakers to consider another Republican candidate. In addition to Jordan, incoming Majority Leader Steve Scalise, 57, of Louisiana, was seen as a possibility.
The last time the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot was 1923.
‘RALLY AROUND HIM’
Jordan himself had spoken out in support of McCarthy before he was nominated, and voted for him all three times.
“We have to rally around him,” Jordan said in an impassioned courtroom speech. “I think Kevin McCarthy is the right person to lead us.”
Jordan is a staunch Trump ally and co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
A former college wrestler, Jordan is preparing to oversee the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the Justice Department and the FBI under Biden.
McCarthy’s hardline opponents fear he isn’t deeply involved enough in the culture wars and partisan rivalries that have dominated the House — and even more so since the Trump White House years.
Before the vote, McCarthy tried to win over opponents at a closed-door party meeting, vowing to stay in the running until he got the necessary votes, but many attendees emerged from the rally undaunted.
McCarthy suggested to reporters later on Tuesday that the path to speakership lay in a vote by “present” members — neither for nor against him — which would lower the threshold needed to secure the job.
McCarthy spent his adult life in politics, as a congressional staffer and then a state legislator before being elected to the House in 2006. As a speaker, McCarthy would be well positioned to frustrate Biden’s legislative ambitions.
But any Republican speaker will have the difficult task of managing a House Republican caucus that drifts ever further to the right, with hardline leanings and — among at least some lawmakers — close alliances with Trump.
Struggles with the party’s right flank have cut short the careers of the last two Republican speakers, with John Boehner resigning in 2015 and Paul Ryan opting not to run for re-election in 2018.
The record number of ballots to elect a Speaker of the House is 133 in a two-month period in the 1850s.
Democrats selected Jeffries as minority leader after Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker, announced she was stepping down as leader. 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, Will Dunham and Howard Goller)