Republican leader Kevin McCarthy remains defiant in his bid for House speaker as lawmakers prepare for further ballots.
Washington, DC – The US House of Representatives has failed again to elect a speaker, with Republican leader Kevin McCarthy continuing to fall short of the majority he needs to preside over the chamber.
In the fourth round of voting on Wednesday, far-right opposition to McCarthy from within the Republican caucus persisted, setting the prospect of a prolonged crisis in Congress, as the House remains practically paralysed without a speaker.
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McCarthy needed 218 votes on Wednesday, but only received 201 with 20 Republicans backing Congressman Byron Donalds and one voting “present”. Democrats remained united behind their nominee, Hakeem Jeffries, who got 212 votes.
Wednesday’s results did not bring McCarthy closer to the majority; in fact, he received one fewer vote than he did in the final ballot a day earlier.
McCarthy dissenters had voted for different candidates in Tuesday’s three ballots, but on Wednesday they put forward Donalds – a second-term House member from Florida – as their nominee.
Congressman Chip Roy nominated Donalds, who has served only two years in the House, lauding what he called his “proven track record” in business and public service.
If elected, Donalds would become the first Black speaker of the House.
“For the first time in history, there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House,” Roy said, referring to Donalds and Jeffries.
Earlier Wednesday, President Joe Biden called on Republicans to “get their act together” and elect a House speaker.
“It’s not a good look. It’s not a good thing. It’s the United States of America, and I hope they get their act together,” Biden told reporters.
The US president also stressed that the crisis is a Republican issue. “That’s not my problem,” he said. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long.”
Without a speaker, new lawmakers – elected in the midterms in November – cannot be sworn in; they still hold the title of representative-elect.
The House and the Senate make up Congress, the US legislative branch, which passes laws and allocates funds for the federal government among other essential tasks.
“The Republican Party in the House is deeply divided, and they have a number of members who not only don’t like their party’s nominee for speaker, but are willing to block that nominee on the floor – and in doing so, break a norm that has been followed for a century,” said Matthew Green, a professor of politics at Catholic University in Washington, DC.
Many Democrats have argued that the early crisis for the new House majority shows Republicans’ inability to lead.
“The problem is…this isn’t just today. This is going to be everyday in the House Republican majority,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
“It’s not just that they won’t be able to govern. It’s that they are going to be an embarrassing public train wreck while they refuse to govern.”
Progressive Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called the impasse a “historic humiliation” for McCarthy, who had threatened to strip her of committee assignments over her criticism of Israel.
Despite the impasse, McCarthy – a California conservative who served as House minority leader for the past four years – has remained defiant.
Asked by reporters late on Tuesday whether he will drop out of the race, McCarthy said, “I’ll let you know when that happens – OK – but it’s not going to happen.”
McCarthy received a boost before the voting on Wednesday from former President Donald Trump.
“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.
Many of the anti-McCarthy GOP rebels are staunch Trump allies. But they, too, have shown no signs of budging.
On Tuesday evening, Congressman Matt Gaetz – one of the leading dissenters – sent a letter to the Capitol architect, who is responsible for the operation of the building, voicing his objection to McCarthy taking the speaker’s office prematurely.
“What is the basis in law, House rule, or precedent to allow someone who has placed second in three successive speaker elections to occupy the Speaker of the House Office? How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?” Gaetz wrote.
Green, the professor, said the persistence of dissent against McCarthy despite Trump’s backing shows the decline of the former president’s influence within the party.
“Members like Matt Gaetz, who have been huge Trump cheerleaders, are ignoring him now,” Green told Al Jazeera.
The professor added that the Republican rebels are not united in their demands; some want rule changes, some want committee assignments for themselves; some simply do not trust McCarthy.
“McCarthy is in big trouble, and he has not demonstrated the kind of skills that are necessary to resolve a conflict of this nature,” Green said.
“And to the extent his opponents just don’t like him, I don’t know that he can do anything to win back their trust. In which case – if that’s true – then the Republicans are going to have to try to find somebody else to be their nominee.”