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Republican leader Kevin McCarthy fails in two votes for US House speaker, but will keep fighting

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“I rise to nominate the most talented, hardest working member of the Republican conference, who just gave a speech with more vision that we have ever heard from the alternative,” Gaetz said.

Jordan got 19 votes in the second round.

Smiling through it all, McCarthy huddled briefly with aides then appeared intent on simply trying to wear down his colleagues.

Earlier, he strode into the chamber, posed for photos, and received a standing ovation from many on his side of the aisle after being nominated by the third most senior Republican, congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who said the Californian from gritty Bakersfield “has what it takes” to lead House Republicans. “No one has worked harder for this majority than Kevin McCarthy,” Stefanik said.

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But on that first vote a challenge was quickly raised by congressman Andy Biggs, a conservative former leader of the Freedom Caucus, who was nominated by a fellow conservative as speaker. In all, 19 Republicans peeled away, denying McCarthy the majority as they cast votes for Biggs or others in protest.

The mood was tense, at least on the Republican side, as lawmakers rose from their seats, in a lengthy first round of in-person voting. Democrats were joyous as they cast their own historic votes for their leader, congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the first black person to lead a major American political party.

“We may have a battle on the floor, but the battle is for the conference and the country,” McCarthy said earlier at the Capitol.

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McCarthy emerged from a contentious closed-door meeting with fellow House Republicans unable to win over detractors and lacking the support needed to become speaker.

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He vowed to fight to the finish – even if it takes multiple tries in a public spectacle that would underscore divisions in his party and weaken its leadership in the first days of the new Congress.

US congressman Scott Perry speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday as congressman Matt Gaetz (right) and congresswoman Lauren Boebert listen. All three are members of the Freedom Caucus and oppose congressman Kevin McCarthy as the new House Speaker. Photo: AP

US congressman Scott Perry speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday as congressman Matt Gaetz (right) and congresswoman Lauren Boebert listen. All three are members of the Freedom Caucus and oppose congressman Kevin McCarthy as the new House Speaker. Photo: AP

A core group of conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Donald Trump’s MAGA agenda were furious, calling the private meeting a “beat down” by McCarthy allies and remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Republican leader.

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“There’s one person who could have changed all this,” said congressman Scott Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a leader of Trump’s effort to challenge the 2020 presidential election. The group said McCarthy refused the group’s last-ditch offer for rules changes in a meeting at the Capitol late on Monday.

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“If you want to drain the swamp you can’t put the biggest alligator in control of the exercise,” Gaetz said.

“He eagerly dismissed us,” congresswoman Lauren Boebert said.

Lawmakers convened in a new era of divided government as Democrats relinquish control of the House after midterm election losses.

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While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, barely, House Republicans are eager to confront President Joe Biden’s agenda after two years of a Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress.

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Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had gavelled closed the last session moments earlier, moving aside for new Democratic leadership, to a standing ovation from colleagues on her side of the aisle.

The chaplain opened with a prayer seeking to bring the 118th Congress to life.

But first, House Republicans had to elect a speaker, second in succession to the presidency.

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Nancy Pelosi steps down as US House Democratic leader

04:46

Nancy Pelosi steps down as US House Democratic leader

Even with an endorsement from former president Trump, McCarthy fell short.

Democrats enthusiastically nominated congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who is taking over as party leader, as their choice for speaker – a typically symbolic gesture in the minority but one that took on new importance as Republicans were in disarray.

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“A Latino is nominating in this chamber a black man for our leader for the first time in American history,” said congressman Pete Aguilar of California, the third most senior Democrat, in nominating his colleague.

The morning meeting of House Republicans turned raucous ahead what is traditionally a celebratory day as newly elected members arrive to be sworn into office. Families in tow, the members of the new Congress prepare to be sworn into the House and Senate for the start of the two-year legislative session.

A new generation of Trump-aligned Republicans led the opposition to McCarthy. They do not think McCarthy is conservative enough or tough enough to battle Democrats.

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It’s reminiscent of the last time Republicans took back the House majority, after the 2010 midterms, when the tea-party class ushered in a new era of hardball politics, eventually sending Speaker John Boehner to an early retirement.

“Nothing’s changed,” said congressman Bob Good. “The problem is Kevin McCarthy.”

Typically it takes a majority of the House’s 435 members, 218 votes, to become the speaker. With just 222 Republican seats, McCarthy could afford to lose only a handful of their votes. A speaker can win with fewer than 218 votes, as Pelosi and Boehner did, if some lawmakers are absent or simply vote present.

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But McCarthy has failed to win over a core – and potentially growing – group of right-flank Republicans led by the conservative Freedom Caucus, despite weeks of closed-door meetings and promised changes to the House rules. Nearly a dozen Republicans have publicly raised concerns about McCarthy.

This is a lot more important than about one person. It’s about whether Republicans will be able to govern
Doug Heye, former Republican leadership senior aide

Some of the staunch Republican conservatives challenged McCarthy in the private session. He pushed back, according to a Republican in the room and granted anonymity to discuss the closed-door session.

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A sizeable but less vocal group of McCarthy supporters started its own campaign, “Only Kevin”, as a way to shut down the opposition and pledge their support only to him.

Congressman Dusty Johnson, a leader of a more pragmatic conservative group, said “frustration was rising” with the minority faction. “Kevin McCarthy is the right guy to lead this conference, the right guy to be speaker of the House,” Johnson said.

A viable challenger to McCarthy had yet to emerge. Biggs, was running as a conservative option, but was not expected to pull a majority. McCarthy defeated him in the November nominating contest, 188-31.

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US congressman Steve Scalise (centre) arrives in the House chamber on the opening day of the 118th Congress on Tuesday. Photo: AP

US congressman Steve Scalise (centre) arrives in the House chamber on the opening day of the 118th Congress on Tuesday. Photo: AP

The second most senior House Republican, congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, would be an obvious next choice, a conservative widely liked by his colleagues and seen by some as a hero after surviving a gunshot wound suffered during an attack by a gunman on a congressional baseball game practice in 2017.

Once rivals, McCarthy and Scalise have become a team. Scalise’s office rejected as “false” a suggestion Monday by another Republican that Scalise was making calls about the speaker’s race.

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A speaker’s contest last went multiple rounds in 1923.

“This is a lot more important than about one person,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican leadership senior aide. “It’s about whether Republicans will be able to govern.”

Without a speaker, the House cannot fully form – naming its committee chairmen, engaging in floor proceedings and launching investigations of the Biden administration.

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It was all in stark contrast to the other side of the Capitol, where Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will officially become the chamber’s longest-serving party leader in history.

Despite being in the minority in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 51-49 majority, McConnell could prove to be a viable partner as Biden seeks bipartisan victories in the new era of divided government. The two men were expected to appear together later in the week in the Republican leader’s home state of Kentucky to celebrate federal infrastructure investment in a vital bridge that connects Kentucky and Ohio.

McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker should have been an almost sure thing. He led his party into the majority, raising millions of campaign dollars and travelling the country to recruit many of the newer lawmakers to run for office.

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US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office as he talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Photo: AP

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office as he talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Yet McCarthy has been here before, abruptly dropping out of the speaker’s race in 2015 when it was clear he did not have support from conservatives to replace Boehner.

One core demand from the holdouts this time is that McCarthy reinstate a rule that allows any single lawmaker to make a “motion to vacate the chair” – in short, to call a vote to remove the speaker from office.

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Pelosi eliminated the rule after conservatives used it to threaten Boehner’s ousting, but McCarthy agreed to add it back in – but at a higher threshold, requiring at least five lawmakers to sign on to the motion. Conservatives said it was insufficient.

The news is published by EMEA Tribune & SCMP210520-twitter-verified-cs-70cdee.jpg (1500×750)

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