A band of 20 right-wing lawmakers again blocked California Congressman Kevin McCarthy on Thursday from becoming speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in an ongoing protest that he is not beholden enough to the conservative cause.
The third day of balloting to pick a new leader of the 435-member lower chamber of Congress looked much like the first two days, with McCarthy, a 16-year lawmaker and the current House Republican leader, falling well short of the majority of 218 he needs to win the job.
A total of 201 Republicans supported him on the seventh and eighth rounds of voting, the same total he had on some of the earlier six ballots on Tuesday and Wednesday, even though he offered new concessions on rules governing House operations to the dissident group in a futile attempt to win them over.
Nominations for a ninth round of voting are under way. McCarthy has given no indication that he would drop out of the contest to lead the House, which would also, under a provision of the U.S. Constitution, make him second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.
Republicans hold a slim 222-212 margin over Democrats in the new session of the 118th Congress, with one current vacancy, meaning McCarthy can lose the support of no more than four Republicans and still be able to reach a majority of 218.
McCarthy has already acceded to several of the right-wing lawmakers’ demands, including allowing a single member to call for a snap internal House election to vacate the speakership if they don’t approve of his legislative policies or the way he is overseeing the chamber.
He has also promised them key committee assignments and full House votes on some of their legislative priorities, such as imposing term limits on lawmakers and stronger border controls to curb undocumented migrants from entering the U.S. across the southwestern border with Mexico.
It has been 100 years since neither a Republican nor a Democrat won the House speakership on the first round of voting.
Electing a speaker in the House is the chamber’s first order of business as a new session of Congress opens. Without a speaker, the lawmakers, all newly elected or reelected in last November’s nationwide congressional elections, have not been sworn in.
As such, the new Republican majority cannot form House committees to begin to consider legislation, start promised investigations of the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden, or provide constituent services for voters in their congressional districts.
Three would-be leaders of House national security committees, Congressmen Michael McCaul on foreign affairs, Mike Rogers on armed services and Mike Turner on intelligence, are all McCarthy supporters and suggested the delay in selecting a House speaker could endanger U.S. national security.
“We cannot let personal politics place the safety and security of the United States at risk,” the three lawmakers said in a statement.
The fourth vote on Wednesday trying to end the stalemate came hours after former President Donald Trump publicly called for McCarthy’s election as House speaker, a lawmaker he has described as “My Kevin.”
Trump warned the slim Republican majority to “not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat. It’s time to celebrate, you deserve it. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a great job — just watch!”
But Trump’s new statement, following calls in recent days to some of the dissidents opposing McCarthy, had no effect, switching not a single vote to favor McCarthy.
Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, part of the anti-McCarthy bloc, said on the House floor Wednesday that Trump “needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw.'”
Biden said the Republican in-fighting in the House was “not my problem,” but added, “I just think it’s a little embarrassing that it’s taking so long … and the rest of the world is looking. They’re looking at, you know, we need to get our act together.”
Whether McCarthy will be able to persuade enough of the dissidents to eventually support him is unclear. The 20 dissidents on Wednesday voted for Congressman Byron Donalds, a Florida lawmaker starting his second term in Congress, and did the same in the seventh round of voting. On the eighth round, Donalds collected 17 votes, with other lawmakers getting three votes.
The 57-year-old McCarthy, a staunch conservative himself, has sought for years to lead the House. Over the past several weeks, he has met repeatedly with his Republican foes to secure their support, to no avail.
Whomever the Republicans eventually elect will replace outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remains a House member and cast her votes for Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the new Democratic minority leader in the House. All 212 Democrats have voted for Jeffries on all eight speakership ballots, but he has no chance of winning since no Republicans plan to vote for him to help him reach the 218 majority.
Democrats, who have been locked in a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate the past two years, gained an edge in the nationwide congressional elections nearly two months ago and will hold a 50-49 majority in the upper chamber, even after onetime Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she is now an independent but would not change her voting philosophy. She usually has voted with the Democratic lawmakers and Biden.
New senators were sworn in on Tuesday.