U.S. House adjourns without a speaker after GOP leader McCarthy loses sixth vote

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sits in the House Chamber during the third round of votes for House Speaker on the opening day of the 118th Congress on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC.

Matt McClain | The Washington Post | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for a second night this week without electing a new speaker after GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., failed in six consecutive votes to secure enough support to be elected to the post.

The House adjourned Wednesday night after breaking for several hours earlier in the evening to give Republicans more time to sway 20 of the party’s most conservative members that have been blocking McCarthy’s run for speaker. The House gaveled back in shortly after 8 p.m. ET only to quickly vote to adjourn until Thursday at noon.

Just ahead of adjourning, McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol that he didn’t have a deal with his opponents, but there was “a lot of progress.”

“I don’t think a vote tonight does any different, but a vote in the future will,” McCarthy said.

The lack of a speaker left the House in disarray, largely due to the fact that rank-and-file members can’t be sworn into office until a speaker is elected. This left all 434 members of the House technically still members-elect, not official voting representatives. 

The ripple effects of this historic procedural limbo were felt across Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Outgoing Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., pointed out that a host of constituent services were essentially frozen until the new Congress is sworn in.

“Who can legally help any and all of our citizens with issues we normally handle everyday?” Long tweeted. “Passports, IRS, Veterans issues, SBA, Post Office, Immigration issues, Corps of Engineers, etc.” 

He also questioned how congressional salaries would be allocated. “Who’s getting paid? Outgoing or incoming?”

Staffers to some newly elected members also told Politico they were unable to access their official email accounts because their bosses had not been sworn in yet. 

A core group of 20 GOP holdouts voted for Florida Rep. Byron Donalds in several rounds of votes Wednesday, each time denying McCarthy the 218 votes he needs to take the gavel.

All 212 Democrats voted for that party’s incoming Minority Leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

The mood on the House floor grew more contentious throughout the day, as Republicans loyal to McCarthy grew increasingly frustrated, and Democrats grew impatient over five hours of voting.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., renominated Donalds in the fifth round of voting before asking McCarthy to withdraw his name.

“You’ve been having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off,” Boebert said on the House floor, referring to former President Donald Trump. “I think it actually needs to be reversed. The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that ‘Sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw.'”

U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert (R-CO) delivers remarks in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Win Mcnamee | Getty Images

Together, Donalds and Jeffries marked the first time that two Black Americans have ever been nominated for House speaker.

Donalds, who was nominated by Texas Republican Chip Roy, told reporters outside the chamber that he would reinstate a House rule to “vacate the chair” if he were elected. That would make it easier to replace the future House speaker.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made it more difficult to change leadership by requiring a party leader or a majority vote by one party to force the vote. Donalds said any member of the chamber should be allowed to call for a vote on the House leader.

“This was a mainstay rule in our chamber that empowered all the members of Congress,” said Donalds, who on Tuesday had publicly shifted his support away from McCarthy. “And Nancy Pelosi is the one who stripped it. And so we think it is important for our institution to function correctly on behalf of the American people to put it back in place.”

When asked about national security concerns with Congress in limbo, Donalds said a hypothetical threat shouldn’t affect the voting process.

“I would anticipate (President Joe Biden) would act to secure the homeland to take care of the American people,” he said. “When it comes to leveraging money to be spent in response, that’s something the members would have to put into their calculus as well. But that doesn’t mean that we should speed up our business here for some (hypothetical) that may exist at some point.”

Democrats could help McCarthy by withholding their votes, which would reduce the number of votes he needed to win House speaker, according to the Intercept. But Pelosi and others have reportedly dismissed that out of hand.

Pelosi told reporters outside the House floor earlier Wednesday that the Republican chaos revealed “a lack of respect for the sworn duty we all have to defend the Constitution and get the job done for the American people.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is seen at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Little appeared to have changed, publicly or privately, between Tuesday and Wednesday. Both McCarthy’s allies and his opponents delivered effectively the same message in interviews Wednesday that they have been for weeks: We’re not going to budge.

One exception to the stalemate was a fresh endorsement for McCarthy from Trump, who on Tuesday afternoon had initially sounded an uncertain note about the political future of one of his most loyal allies in Congress.

“REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT,” Trump posted on his Truth Social website Wednesday morning. “IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE, YOU DESERVE IT. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB – JUST WATCH!”

Despite Trump’s broad support among conservative Republican voters, it was not clear his new endorsement would move the needle for any of the holdouts in Congress. While the group of 20 far-right Republicans are all close Trump allies, the former president’s name and his “America First” message have been notably absent from the intraparty GOP debate raging behind closed doors.

McCarthy himself was tight lipped Tuesday and into Wednesday, and he declined to give interviews or take his message to the airwaves or social media.

When asked Wednesday morning what his plan would be, NBC News reported that McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol, “Same game plan as yesterday.”

When a journalist asked how he would get more votes, McCarthy replied: “We’re sitting, we’re talking … I think we can get to an agreement.”

Instead, he authorized a handful of allies to negotiate with the holdouts, many of whom identify with the Freedom Caucus, a loosely organized 40+ member caucus led by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, who is among the most outspoken opponents of McCarthy’s speaker bid.

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