Republican leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy failed to get a majority of the members present and voting even after three attempts, so they adjourned until noon on Wednesday. In the interim, there is going to a lot of pleading, yelling, and arm twisting in an effort to get to the magic number of 218.
Frankly, I did not see this coming. I did think that the hardliners in the Republican caucus would defeat McCarthy on the first vote to show their displeasure but I expected the two sides to arrive at some face-saving compromise that would enable both sides to declare victory. But not only did that not happen, the vote against McCarthy increased by one on the third round.
There are 435 members in the body and the last election results split 222-213 in favor of Republicans. But one Democratic member from Virginia died soon after the election, which means that Democrats have only 212 votes and a special election to fill the seat will be held on February 21. It seems like a safe Democratic seat so the final result will be the same as before. But given the razor-thin margins and the rules for voting for the Speaker, this could be significant.
One odd feature of this process is that the election of the Speaker has to be the first order of business. It is only after that happens that the new members of Congress can be sworn in and the body proceed with business. This seems weird to me. Usually one has to be sworn in to be considered to have joined a body so until they are sworn in, they cannot vote any bills. An exception has been made for organizational business such as electing the Speaker so that is why we have 435 people who are not sworn in voting for the Speaker. The Speaker is the one who then swears in all the members en masse. It seems like it would make more sense for (say) a member of the Supreme Court to swear in all the members first.
I discussed in an earlier post what happened on previous occasions where there were multiple votes for Speaker, on one occasion going over 100. It appears that when calculating the majority, members who vote present or abstain are not counted in the total.
So what happened in the three votes? On all three rounds, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries got all 212 votes in his caucus. In the first two rounds, McCarthy got just 203, losing 19 of his caucus, and in the third he got 202, losing one more. To add to the bizarre nature of the proceedings, on the third vote, 20 rebel Republicans voted for Jim Jordan for Speaker leaving McCarthy with just 202, even though Jordan nominated McCarthy and voted for him. Furthermore, the 20 rebels belong to the extreme wing of the GOP that parrots the Trump line. But even though Trump initially said that he supported McCarthy (who has been shamelessly groveling before him for the past six years), that did not seem to sway them.
Not surprisingly, things have become quite acrimonious.
In recent days, Republicans have resorted to name-calling and making threats against their fellow GOP colleagues. One McCarthy ally, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., accused McCarthy foes of opposing him just to pad their campaign coffers.
“Who’s raising money off of standing up to power, while conveniently forgetting that Kevin McCarthy funded their campaigns, that he came to their districts and did events for them,” Cammack said. “And now they’re sending out emails saying, ‘Oh, give me $5 because I’m standing up to the establishment and draining the swamp.’”
“I don’t care if it’s the first ballot or the 97th ballot, Kevin McCarthy will be speaker of the House,” she said.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, was less diplomatic in expressing his frustration with the McCarthy opponents.
“There’s a group of people who have deeply miscalculated,” Crenshaw said. “They’ve calculated that people will see them as these noble freedom fighters fighting for a cause. They can’t seem to say what the cause is. That makes them look pretty f—ing stupid. And they are pretty f—ing stupid.”
How will this end up? Beats me. Both sides seem to have dug in their heels but something has to give so that the the House of Representatives is not brought to a standstill. McCarthy has wanted to be Speaker from his earliest days in politics and ran for the position eight years ago but was thwarted by the right wing of his party. It may seem like deja vu but he is not going to give up his dream easily.