Kevin McCarthy on course to lose first round Speaker vote


Kevin McCarthy was in the fight of his political life on Tuesday after he looked set to lose an initial vote to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, putting him on course to become the first majority party leader to falter in the early ballot in a century.

With the ballots still being tallied on Tuesday afternoon, at least 12 Republicans had voted against McCarthy’s speakership bid, making it mathematically impossible for him to clinch the 218 votes required to seize the Speaker’s gavel unless lawmakers switch sides.

Subsequent ballots were expected on Tuesday afternoon, though it remained unclear whether McCarthy would be able to improve his numbers and achieve the simple majority required to become Speaker. The House is constitutionally required to elect a Speaker and cannot start governing until one is selected.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill ahead of the vote after what he described as an “intense” meeting on Tuesday morning, McCarthy lashed out at Republican lawmakers who have so far refused to endorse his bid to become the Speaker of the House, accusing them of putting personal interests ahead of their party and the country.

“There [are] times that we are going to have to argue with our own members, if they are looking at positions only for themselves, not for the country,” McCarthy said just an hour before the House was due hold a vote to elect a new Speaker. “We are not empowering certain members over others.”

McCarthy, a 57-year-old congressman from California, is the House’s top-ranking Republican, and had long been touted as the most likely successor to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House who is ceding the gavel after her party lost its majority in last year’s midterm elections.

While the vast majority of House Republicans have supported McCarthy’s bid, a vocal minority have threatened to his scupper his ambitions by voting against him after a relatively disappointing performance in November’s midterm elections.

While the GOP eked out enough wins to take back control of the lower chamber of Congress, the “red wave” McCarthy predicted did not materialise. At the same time, Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, after flipping a seat in Pennsylvania.

All 435 members of the House of Representatives participate in the vote for Speaker, the first order of business for a new Congress. A Speaker needs a simple majority, or at least 218 votes if the entire House is in attendance, to be elected.

Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump
McCarthy’s relationship with Donald Trump has had its ups and downs © David McNew/Getty Images

McCarthy has for months struggled to shore up support amid opposition from various factions within the Republican caucus, including ultraconservatives and lawmakers who are unflinchingly loyal to former president Donald Trump.

McCarthy’s relationship with Trump has over the years oscillated between unabashed public displays of loyalty — Trump has frequently referred to the congressman as “my Kevin” — and acrimony. McCarthy reportedly said “I’ve had it with this guy” after the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol, before posing for smiling photos with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort just weeks later. Trump last year endorsed McCarthy’s bid for Speaker.

In recent weeks, McCarthy has sought to bolster his standing within the party by brokering deals intended to satisfy the demands of various dissenters.

At the weekend, he rolled out a package of proposed rules to change House procedure. But on Sunday night, a group of nine Republican lawmakers published an open letter saying the changes did not go far enough. They want further concessions that would make it easier to call a no-confidence vote in any future Speaker.

Many on Capitol Hill are braced for the possibility that the process could drag on for days, until McCarthy is able to build enough support or ultimately steps aside in favour of another candidate. While his deputy, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, has supported his boss’s bid, he is seen as the most likely alternative to secure 218 votes if McCarthy fails.

Democratic House leaders have so far rejected any suggestion that they would move to help McCarthy, or coalesce their support around an alternative Republican candidate. Many Democratic lawmakers appeared to revel in their party’s relative unity on Tuesday, with some openly mocking the Republicans’ discord. Ted Lieu, the congressman from California, posted an image on Twitter in which he was holding a bag of popcorn.


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