Washington, DC – The United States House of Representatives has adjourned for a second day without a speaker, as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy continued to fall short of the majority he needs to preside over the chamber.
In the sixth round of voting on Wednesday, far-right opposition to McCarthy persisted, setting up the prospect of a prolonged crisis in Congress as the House will remain practically paralysed if a speaker is not chosen.
McCarthy needed 218 votes to claim the gavel. But in three ballots on Wednesday, he only received 201, with 20 far-right Republicans backing Congressman Byron Donalds and one voting “present” as a sign of protest. Democrats remained united behind their nominee, Hakeem Jeffries, who got 212 votes.
Wednesday’s results did not bring McCarthy closer to the majority. In fact, he received one fewer vote than in the final ballot a day earlier.
The House voted to adjourn after its third attempt to elect a speaker failed on Wednesday. The ballot was its sixth vote overall.
McCarthy called for the break after late-night closed door discussions failed to produce a deal, saying “people need to work a little more”.
“I don’t think a vote tonight would make any difference,” he said. “But a vote in the future could.”
When the House returns at noon on Thursday, it will hold a seventh round of votes for speaker.
The last time the House required more than one vote to appoint a speaker was a century ago, in 1923.
On Tuesday, Republican dissenters had voted for candidates like Ohio’s Jim Jordan or Arizona’s Andy Biggs as alternatives to McCarthy. But on Wednesday, they largely threw their support behind Donalds, a second-term House member from Florida.
Texas Congressman Chip Roy nominated Donalds, who has served only two years in the House, lauding what he called his “proven track record” in business and public service. If elected, Donalds would become the first Black speaker of the House.
“For the first time in history, there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House,” Roy said, referring to Donalds and Jeffries.
Earlier on Wednesday, President Joe Biden called on Republicans to “get their act together” and elect a House speaker.
“It’s not a good look. It’s not a good thing,” Biden said of the impasse. “It’s the United States of America, and I hope they [the Republicans] get their act together.”
The president also stressed that the crisis is a Republican issue. “That’s not my problem,” he said. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long.”
Without a speaker, new House politicians – elected in the November midterms – cannot be sworn in. They still hold the title of representative-elect.
The House is one of two chambers that make up Congress, the US legislative branch that passes laws and allocates funds for the federal government, among other essential tasks. The other chamber, the Senate, successfully held its swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday.
“The Republican Party in the House is deeply divided. And they have a number of members who not only don’t like their party’s nominee for speaker but are willing to block that nominee on the floor – and in doing so, break a norm that has been followed for a century,” said Matthew Green, a professor of politics at Catholic University in Washington, DC.
Many Democrats have argued that the early crisis for the new House majority shows Republicans’ inability to lead.
“The problem is… this isn’t just today. This is going to be everyday in the House Republican majority,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “It’s not just that they won’t be able to govern. It’s that they are going to be an embarrassing public train wreck while they refuse to govern.”
Progressive Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called the impasse a “historic humiliation” for McCarthy, who had threatened to strip her of committee assignments over her criticism of Israel.
Despite the impasse, McCarthy – a California conservative who served as House minority leader for the past four years – has remained defiant.
Asked by reporters late on Tuesday whether he will drop out of the race, McCarthy said: “I’ll let you know when that happens – OK – but it’s not going to happen.”
McCarthy received a boost before the voting on Wednesday from former President Donald Trump.
“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.
Many of the anti-McCarthy GOP rebels are staunch Trump allies. But they, too, have shown no signs of budging. On the House floor on Wednesday, right-wing Congresswoman Lauren Boebert played down Trump’s endorsement of McCarthy.
“Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us – even having my favourite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off. I think it actually needs to be reversed. The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that ‘sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw’,” Boebert said, referring to Trump.
Green, the politics professor at Catholic University, said the persistent dissent against McCarthy, despite Trump’s backing, shows the decline of the former president’s influence.
“Members like [Florida Representative] Matt Gaetz, who have been huge Trump cheerleaders, are ignoring him now,” Green told Al Jazeera.
We are on day 2 and the same Never Kevin group is now on their 3rd Speaker candidate.
People are truly beginning to realize they have no plan, and they are sick and tired of ‘trust the plan’ that’s a complete secret and never produces results.
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) January 4, 2023
Green added that the Republican rebels are not united in their demands: some want rule changes and some want committee assignments for themselves. Others simply do not trust McCarthy.
“McCarthy is in big trouble and he has not demonstrated the kind of skills that are necessary to resolve a conflict of this nature,” Green said.
“And to the extent his opponents just don’t like him, I don’t know that he can do anything to win back their trust. In which case – if that’s true – then the Republicans are going to have to try to find somebody else to be their nominee.”
Gaetz – one of the leading dissenters – even sent a letter on Tuesday to the Architect of the Capitol, the agency responsible for the operation of the building, voicing his objection to McCarthy taking the speaker’s office prematurely.
“What is the basis in law, House rule, or precedent to allow someone who has placed second in three successive speaker elections to occupy the Speaker of the House Office?” Gaetz wrote.
“How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?”