January 29, 2023

Kevin McCarthy has vowed to stay in the race for US House Speaker amid fierce opposition.

WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Republican Kevin McCarthy vowed on Tuesday to stay in the race to become the powerful speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the first day of a brutal showdown between about 20 hardliners and the other 202 members of the Republican caucus, McCarthy fell three votes short of the 218 votes needed to become speaker, the second-in-command in the Oval Office. Office after the Vice President.

It was a tumultuous start for the new Republican majority and highlights the challenges the party could face in the next two years leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Their slim 222-212 majority gives more leverage to a small group of hardliners 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.

Later Tuesday, McCarthy told reporters that former President Donald Trump had called him and reiterated his support. Trump endorsed McCarthy in the race and remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party.

McCarthy, a 57-year-old California native, knew he faced an uphill climb in Tuesday’s polls and vowed to continue to force votes. But the chamber voted late Tuesday to adjourn until Wednesday afternoon ET (1700 GMT), giving Republicans time to discuss other candidates.

Conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, 58, of Ohio, received 20 votes in the day’s final vote, far short of 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 voted for McCarthy. McCarthy previously tried for speaker in 2015 and failed against conservative opposition, adding, “He’s not going to get this chance again.”

A protracted speaker election could undermine House Republicans’ hopes for investigations into Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration and swift progress on legislative priorities that include the economy, U.S. energy independence and border security.

The chamber’s top Democrat, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, bested McCarthy in all three votes. In the final count of the day, Jeffries led McCarthy 212 to 202 votes. A majority vote is required to determine a speaker, not a plurality.

A deadlock could largely shut down the House and force lawmakers to consider another Republican nominee. Besides Jordan, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, 57, from Louisiana, was seen as a possibility.

The last time the House failed to elect a Speaker was in 1923.

‘Rally around him’

Jordan had spoken out in support of McCarthy before he was nominated and voted for him three times.

“We need to rally around him,” Jordan said in an emotional speech on the House floor. “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.

Jordan, a former college wrestler, is preparing to oversee the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the Justice Department and the FBI under Biden.

McCarthy’s fiercest opponents worry that he is not deeply invested in the culture wars and partisan rivalries that have dominated the House — and since the Trump White House years.

Before the vote, McCarthy tried to force holdouts during a closed-door party meeting, vowing to stay in the race until he got the necessary votes, but many attendees walked out of the meeting.

McCarthy suggested to reporters later Tuesday that the path to him becoming speaker lies with members voting “right now” — not for or against him — which would lower the threshold needed to secure the job.

McCarthy has spent most of his adult life in politics — as a congressional staffer and then as a state legislator before being elected to the House in 2006. As speaker, McCarthy would be well placed to frustrate Biden’s legislative aspirations.

But any Republican speaker will have a difficult task managing an ever-rightward House Republican caucus with uncompromising tendencies and — at least among some lawmakers — a close loyalty to Trump.

With John Boehner resigning in 2015 and Paul Ryan choosing not to seek re-election in 2018, struggles with the right wing of the party have cut short the careers of the past two Republican Speakers.

In the 1850s, the record number of voting rounds for electing the Speaker of the House in a two-month period was 133.

Democrats chose Jeffries as minority leader after Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as speaker, announced she would step down from her leadership role. He will hold office as a representative.

Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Graeme Slattery; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Mahini Price; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell, Will Dunham and Howard Koller

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.