U.S. House paralyzed following second day of GOP failure to elect a speaker

By: and - January 4, 2023 6:04 pm

House Reading Clerk Tylease Alli during balloting on the next speaker of the U.S. House Jan. 4, 2023. (C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans’ stalemate over who should lead the chamber for the next two years dragged on Wednesday, with Kevin McCarthy failing to get the votes needed to become speaker on three more ballots.

The chamber then adjourned until 8 p.m. Eastern to give the House GOP a chance to meet privately, though House Republican leaders had no clear plan to garner the support of the members who have vehemently opposed McCarthy.

The second day of floor votes saw 21 GOP lawmakers including Bob Good of Virginia vote against the California congressman, despite ongoing efforts to turn members to his side. That was an increase of one from Tuesday, with Indiana’s Victoria Spartz now voting present. 

Until McCarthy wins enough votes or the House elects another speaker, members-elect cannot be sworn in, meaning that while the 118th Congress is technically underway, the House has no members and no agreed-upon rules under which to operate, such as how legislation can be brought to the floor. The clerk of the House has been conducting the proceedings.

Nebraska’s Don Bacon said late Wednesday afternoon that some Republicans are putting together a backup plan. 

“There’s a group of us that know that plan B has to be worked on,” Bacon said on a call hosted by D.C.-based political organization No Labels, which advocates for bipartisanship.

Bacon wouldn’t reveal details about negotiations on a compromise candidate for House speaker. “We can’t be public about it for the time being,” he said. 

A social media post by former Republican President Donald Trump in the morning didn’t sway the holdouts to McCarthy’s side when the chamber came into session at noon.

“Republicans, do not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat,” Trump wrote, adding that McCarthy would do a “good job, and maybe even a great job.” 

Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, a McCarthy opponent, called on Trump to reverse course during a floor speech in the afternoon, saying that the party should work together and “stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us.”

“Even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off,” Boebert said. “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.” 

McCarthy said before the floor votes that Republicans plan to keep talking and that he had the “same game plan as yesterday.” 

We’ll find an agreement where we all get together, and we’ll work through this,” McCarthy told reporters around noon.

On a call with select Republicans Wednesday morning, McCarthy touted his support from Trump, according to a GOP aide.

“I’m not going anywhere,” McCarthy said on the call that he led with Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and GOP Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota.

Adjournment unsuccessful in unifying GOP

The House held three votes for speaker Tuesday before the chamber adjourned for the night in an unsuccessful attempt to get Republicans to unify around a candidate. 

McCarthy lost the backing of 19 members on the first two votes before Florida’s Byron Donalds joined the group of lawmakers opposing McCarthy’s bid for speaker during the third ballot, bringing the total of opponents to 20.

McCarthy needs the backing of at least 218 House members, a challenging task at the moment, given he can only lose four votes amid House Republicans’ especially narrow majority. That means McCarthy and his backers need to get at least 17 of the 21 members who voted against him Wednesday to change their minds. 

Floridian backed for speaker

The GOP lawmakers opposing McCarthy rallied around Florida’s Donalds as their preferred candidate on the fourth, fifth and sixth ballots Wednesday, moving away from an earlier push for Ohio’s Jim Jordan. 

Texas Republican Chip Roy got a standing ovation from the entire House chamber when he noted that nominating Donalds for speaker, along with Democrats’ nomination of New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, represented “the first time in history there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House.”

The House held a second full standing ovation after Roy said that “we do not seek to judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But the GOP split over who should hold the speaker’s gavel continued throughout the afternoon, with the vast majority of the House Republican Conference pressing for McCarthy both during floor speeches and in what appeared to be tense conversations on the House floor. 

Wisconsin’s Mike Gallagher, who nominated McCarthy on the fourth ballot, argued that the disagreement among Republicans was part of the democratic process, rebuffing criticism the party is in disarray. 

“Sure it looks messy, but democracy is messy,” Gallagher said. “That’s a feature, not a bug of our system. We air it all out, in the open for the American people to see.”

The floor speeches, however, didn’t move Republicans any closer to actually electing a speaker. 

McCarthy for the moment is staying put in the speaker’s race with the backing of 201 members of his conference. 


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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.