Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., failed to earn a majority of votes in his bid for House Speaker on Tuesday, an embarrassing development that will force a second ballot for the first time in a century.
While Republicans took control of the House in November’s midterm elections, they fell far short of a predicted landslide victory, leaving only a slim majority to work with. McCarthy could only afford four defections; in the end, McCarthy lost 19 Republican votes.
The vote for speaker will now go to a second ballot, followed by an indefinite number of additional votes if a candidate can’t secure a majority. McCarthy and his allies have said he plans to stick it out, which would require convincing dissenting Republicans or Democratic votes to support his candidacy. Another lawmaker, such as the House GOP’s No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., could also emerge as a consensus pick.
Among the Republican representatives receiving votes other than McCarthy were Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Jim Banks, R-Ind., Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and Byron Donalds, R-Fla. The last time the selection of a House speaker took more than one ballot was 1923, when nine ballots were required for Frederick Gillett to take the gavel. It took the 34th Congress, convened in 1855, 133 ballots and two months to settle on Nathaniel Prentice Banks.
Democrats were gleeful, noting they were “united” behind New York’s Hakeem Jeffries as their party’s leader in the chamber after former Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped down from the role. Jeffries received a round of applause when he voted for himself, as did Pelosi, who remains in the House as a rank-and-file member.
McCarthy, who had served as the minority leader, wooed his GOP critics by endorsing rule changes, including making it easier for a smaller group of members to challenge leadership in a procedure known as vacating the chair. The California Republican, who also lost a bid for speaker in 2015, urged the party to support him in a closed-door meeting earlier Tuesday, saying, “I earned this job.”
“Kevin McCarthy is not the right candidate to be Speaker,” Rep. Don Bishop, R-N.C., said Tuesday in a statement representative of some of the oppositions’ feelings. “He has perpetuated the Washington status quo that makes this body one of the most unsuccessful and unpopular institutions in the country.”
“There’s times we’re going to have to argue with our own members, if they’re looking out for only positions for themselves, not for the country,” McCarthy said Tuesday morning before the vote. “For the last two months we worked together. As a whole conference, we developed rules that empower all members. But we’re not empowering certain members over others.”
A former Republican leader in the state assembly, McCarthy first won election to the House in 2006. In a potentially ominous sign for how long the process might take, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., said she’d vote for McCarthy “no matter how many times it takes.” Following the failed vote, McCarthy conceded it was possible the Speaker process could take days.