By LISA MASCARO and FARNUSH AMIRI (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans struggled through a long second day of unsuccessful voting Wednesday and failed to elect their leader Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker or develop a new strategy to end the political chaos that marked the start of their new majority has tarnished .
But McCarthy didn’t give up, even after the fourth, fifth and sixth votes didn’t produce a better result and he attempted to cancel a late-night session. Even that was contentious, as the House voted 216 to 214 – amid shouts and jostling – for an adjournment for the night.
“No deal yet,” McCarthy said shortly before exiting a long behind-closed-doors dinner meeting with key holdouts and his own allies. “But a lot of progress.”
However, there was no sign of progress at all on the day Republicans attempted to put McCarthy in the top spot. The ballots returned almost the same result, 20 Conservative holdouts still refused to back him, leaving him well short of the 218 normally needed to win the Hammer.
In fact, McCarthy saw his support slip to 201 when a fellow Republican switched to mere presence.
Seeing no quick way out of the political stalemate, Republicans voted abruptly for a couple of hours late in the day while desperately searching for an endgame to the chaos of their own making. They were supposed to be back in the evening, but McCarthy wanted to take a break until Thursday.
“I think people need to work a little bit more,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think a vote tonight would make a difference. But a vote in the future might.”
McCarthy, the California Republican, vowed to fight to the end for the speaker’s post despite the unnerving spectacle that roiled the new majority in the early days of the new Congress. Lively private discussions erupted on the chamber floor and in huddled gatherings throughout the Capitol between McCarthy supporters and critics.
“Well, it’s groundhog day,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., of McCarthy’s sixth-round nomination.
She said: “To all the Americans watching right now, we hear you. And we will get through this – no matter how messy it is.”
But right flank conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and allied with Donald Trump, appeared emboldened by the standoff — despite Trump publicly backing McCarthy,
“This is truly an invigorating day for America,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., who has been nominated three times as an alternative by his Conservative peers. “There are many members in the Chamber who want to have serious discussions about how we can wrap this all up and elect a speaker.”
No other work could be done — swearing in new House members, forming committees, moving into legislation, investigating the Biden administration — until the speaker was elected.
As the hours went by, the momentum proved no different than Day One, when Democrats reinstated their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, as speaker and Donalds McCarthy offered his challenge in another history-making moment. Both Jeffries and Donalds are black.
“This country needs leadership,” said Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, who noted that for the first time in history two African Americans have been nominated for high office. MPs from both parties rose to applause.
It was the first time in 100 years that no candidate for speaker of the House of Representatives was able to take the gavel in the first vote.
The disorganized start to the new Congress hinted at difficulties ahead for Republicans, who are now in control of the House, much like some previous Republican speakers, including John Boehner, had trouble leading a rebellious right flank and ended up with government shutdowns, standoffs and premature retirements.
Democratic President Joe Biden, who left the White House for a bipartisan event in Kentucky with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said “the rest of the world is watching” the scene at the House.
“I just find it really embarrassing that it’s taking so long,” Biden said. “I have no idea” who will prevail.
Tensions flared among the majority of the new House of Representatives as their campaign promises of competent leadership faltered. Since 1923 the election of a speaker had not been carried out in several ballots. The longest and most grueling battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and dragged on for two months during the pre-Civil War slavery debates, with 133 ballots.
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many of whom support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, are looking to turn business as usual on its head in Washington and have pledged to halt McCarthy’s rise without compromising on their priorities.
But even Trump’s strongest supporters were divided on this issue. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a staunch Colorado conservative who nominated Donalds for the second time, urged the former president to tell McCarthy, ‘Sir, you don’t have the votes and it’s time to retire.'”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump had done the opposite and urged Republicans to vote for McCarthy. “Close the deal, get the win,” he wrote in all caps on his social media page. “Don’t turn a great triumph into a huge and embarrassing defeat.”
As the spectacle dragged on, McCarthy’s supporters begged the holdouts to line up for the California Republican.
“I think members on both sides are getting a lot of pressure now,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “So I guess the message from home is, ‘Hey, sort that stuff.'”
The standoff over McCarthy has been building since Republicans won the House majority in the midterm elections to end the past two years of Democratic control of Washington. The conservative Freedom Caucus led opposition to McCarthy, believing he was neither conservative nor tough enough to fight the Democrats.
To garner support, McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of Freedom Caucus members for rule changes and other concessions that give rank and file members more leverage.
And a McCarthy-affiliated campaign group, the Conservative Leadership Fund, offered another concession, saying it would no longer spend money voting “in any open primary in safe Republican counties.” The far-right MPs complained that their favorite House candidates were being treated unfairly as the campaign fund diverted its resources elsewhere.
But McCarthy’s opponents don’t all have the same grievances and he may never be able to win over some.
“I’m willing to vote for that person all night, all week, all month and never,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
This staunch opposition was reminiscent of McCarthy’s previous bid for the job, when he dropped out of the running for the speaker in 2015 because he failed to convince Conservatives.
Democrats enthusiastically nominated and re-nominated their House Speaker Jeffries on all six ballots for speaker over the two days. Overall, he repeatedly won the most votes with 212.
If McCarthy could win 213 votes and then convince the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the majority threshold required by the rules.
It’s a strategy that previous House Speakers, including outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Boehner, employed when they faced the opposition and won by fewer than 218 votes.
One Republican, Representative Victoria Spartz of Indiana, voted for attendance in Wednesday’s ballot, but it only ended with McCarthy’s total being lowered.
AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking contributed to the coverage.
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