WASHINGTON – The House remained gridlocked Thursday after Republican lawmakers were unable to herd their majority behind a speaker candidate for a third consecutive day since the new Congress convened.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy failed to meet the needed 218-vote threshold on five separate ballots as he tied – and then vaulted past – a 100-year record for one of the longest speaker races.
McCarthy’s foes pushed the California Republican into the history books after the ninth ballot made this one of the longest speaker battles. He lost three ballots each on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 1923, it took Massachusetts Rep. Frederick Gillett nine rounds of voting to win his speaker bid. This time, the House will have to go to at least a 12th ballot – the most since before the Civil War.
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The prolonged leadership process has delayed GOP plans to wield a majority eager to scrutinize President Joe Biden’s administration while pushing a more conservative legislative agenda.
Tensions spilled over as some frustrated GOP lawmakers pointed out that the caucus has overwhelmingly backed McCarthy on multiple ballots.
Michigan Republican John James said voters didn’t elect them to Congress for this. He noted the House GOP’s success in winning back the chamber during last year’s midterms compared to fellow Republicans in the Senate and state legislatures.
“You don’t fire a guy who’s winning,” James, who nominated McCarthy for the first vote Thursday (and seventh ballot overall), said.
Here are the top takeaways:
McCarthy vs. GOP rebels
McCarthy offered a slate of new concessions to put a stop to the Republican rebellion against him.
The plan limited many powers of the speakership, notably by allowing for a single member to force a vote to remove the speaker. McCarthy had been proposing no fewer than five members while the rule under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi was more than half the caucus.
Other offers included giving more conservatives the authority to pick a third of the members on the powerful House Rules Committee (which decides how legislation comes to the floor).
Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher told reporters that McCarthy has made a “persuasive case” with those compromises but that opponents refused to budge.
“The biggest roadblock, I don’t know, I mean (it) seems to be just basic trust,” he said.
“We need to get to a point where we start evaluating what life after Kevin McCarthy looks like,” Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, another of the GOP rebels, said on the House floor.
Donalds ‘ain’t no prop,’ lawmaker says
Florida Republican Byron Donalds, one of four Black GOP members in the House, was once again thrust into the national spotlight as an alternative candidate for McCarthy’s foes.
The historic bid, however, was dubbed a ploy by one of the Democrats most outspoken members.
“(For what it’s worth), Byron Donalds is not a historic candidate for speaker,” Missouri Democrat Cori Bush said in a tweet Wednesday.
“He is a prop. Despite being Black, he supports a policy agenda intent on upholding and perpetuating white supremacy. His name being in the mix is not progress – it’s pathetic.”
That caught the attention of North Carolina Republican Dan Bishop, who emphasized Thursday the potential history in electing the first Black speaker in U.S. history.
“He ain’t no prop,” Bishop said.
Donalds, a rock-solid conservative on most issues, did respond via Twitter, saying “nobody asked Bush her opinion” and that his colleague should engage the debate rather than name-calling.
“Until then, don’t be a crab in a barrel,” he said.
Why this matters outside of Washington is that technically there are no “members” of the 118th Congress until this speaker saga ends.
“I don’t know what my status is,” California Democrat Ted Lieu told the AP.
That’s because the speaker is the one who swears in members and leads the organization of the chamber, which means no legislative business can be done either. That’s creating issues from silly to serious ones in a House with no rules.
How enfeebled are they? The speaker controls the House floor thermostat. There have been some complaints this week that it’s too hot or too cold inside the chamber.
But this is beginning to worry some on weightier matters. Lawmakers on key committees can no longer access classified documents related to national security or find themselves locked out of sensitive briefings with federal agencies.
“My office was informed by an agency today that they cannot communicate with my staff regarding active casework because we are not yet sworn in! The handful holding up the speaker election is not helping Americans but directly hurting them,” Nebraska Republican Don Bacon said in a tweet Thursday.
New line of succession
For the moment, this impasse also impacts the line of presidential succession.
After the vice president the speaker is second in line should the president die, resign or be removed.
But without a speaker, that responsibility now falls to the Senate president pro tempore, who is Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington. She was sworn-in Tuesday and became the first woman to hold the position in 234 years.
During the vote-a-rama Thursday, some of the “never Kevin” Republicans began to bleed away from Donalds in what could be a search for a consensus candidate.
Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern, who received two votes during the eighth ballot and was later nominated, for instance.
At one point Florida Republican Matt Gaetz threw his support behind former President Donald Trump, who failed to persuade the McCarthy foes this week.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require the speaker be a sitting member of the House. However, every speaker who ever served has been a sitting member of the House.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Speaker stalemate divides GOP as foes say they can’t trust McCarthy