McCarthy fails on first speakership vote in historic loss

The GOP leader did pick up a few undecided House Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Ben Cline (Va.) and Clay Higgins (La.). Rep.-elect Mike Collins (R-Ga.), who had pledged to vote against McCarthy during his campaign, also backed him.

But in the meantime, the House GOP risks a chaotic floor fight, with no rules of the chamber yet in place. Lawmakers cannot even decide to adjourn without a majority of members in favor. In a tweet moments after McCarthy’s speaker vote failed, Biggs called on McCarthy to “stand down and allow us to select someone else in the next ballot.”

“The thing we have in front of us right now is Kevin. He’s in. He’s got no plans of leaving. He’ll stay in for months if that’s what it takes,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

Some members even declared their support on the floor: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) said, as she cast her vote, “No matter how many times it takes, Kevin McCarthy.”

Those 19 opposition votes came despite fierce pressure from McCarthy and his wide band of allies that he has honed over the years — with some members even vowing to punish defectors by removing them from committees.

“No one in this body has worked harder for this Republican majority than Kevin McCarthy,” New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, said in a booming floor speech delivered moments before lawmakers began to vote.

“If they think they can ask Kevin McCarthy to strong-arm the rest of us into going somewhere we don’t want to go, they are sorely mistaken. The 5 percent do not get to roll the 95 percent,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), a close ally of McCarthy.

After brewing for years, the revolt against McCarthy materialized on the floor in front of all 434 seated members (with the seat of the late Rep. Don McEachin [D-Va.] still vacant). On a day of plenty of pomp and circumstance, dozens of lawmakers brought squirming children, including at least one crying infant, as they sat through the full roll-call vote.

The substantial bloc of opposition against McCarthy marks an increase from the day prior, when only five House Republicans had publicly declared they would vote against their party leader.

But storm clouds were brewing over McCarthy throughout Tuesday. Just before heading to the floor, House Republicans gathered for a tense — and at times, raucous — meeting where McCarthy and his top supporters erupted at the dozen-plus conservative hard-liners vowing to block his speaker’s bid.

In a fiery speech to his conference in the closed-door meeting, McCarthy underscored the extensive concessions he has made to those who have vowed to oppose him, largely those in the House Freedom Caucus, according to multiple members in the room.

But he also told members that there were about 20 GOP lawmakers who plan to vote against him, far more than the five who have publicly opposed him — in a preview of the chaos that he met on the floor.

“I earned this job. We earned this majority, and God dammit we are going to win it today,” McCarthy said to a standing ovation, according to lawmakers in the room.

It wasn’t just the California Republican calling out the conservative hardliners. Many of McCarthy’s frustrated supporters, too, unloaded on the band of detractors. At one point, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, pushed the idea that any Republican who opposes McCarthy should be stripped of committee assignments.

One of McCarthy’s chief antagonists, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), spoke up to defend his position — and lashed out against Roger’s remarks about keeping fellow Republicans off committees, shouting profanities at his colleague. Rogers said after the meeting that his warning that the Steering Committee will block McCarthy opponents from getting committee assignments wasn’t just a threat: “I promised it.”

And McCarthy shot back at Roy’s defense of his opposition: “You’re not voting against me, it’s against the conference and the country.”

Roy wasn’t the only Republican vowing to vote against McCarthy to speak up. Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) both reiterated their stances to the conference. The GOP leader responded to Perry: “What’s left? What do you want?”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), another anti-McCarthy Republican, told members as he left the room: “Nothing’s changed.”

Other anti-McCarthy members, including Perry and Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), publicly railed against McCarthy after the closed-door meeting, arguing that his allies were resorting to political threats instead of making a deal. Boebert had just announced her public opposition Tuesday morning, along with Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.).

“This [meeting] was about a beat down and a simulated unity in the room that really doesn’t exist,” Perry said.

“Here we are being sworn at instead of sworn in,” Boebert added.

McCarthy appeared unbowed Tuesday morning after what he described as an “intense conference,” saying “I’m not going anywhere.”

He added that Monday night, conservatives told him “the only way to get 218 votes was if I provided certain members with certain positions, certain gavels … and they even came to the position where Matt Gaetz said: ‘I don’t care if we go to plurality and we elect [incoming House Democratic leader] Hakeem Jeffries.’”

Even before the explosive meeting, early signs Tuesday didn’t point in McCarthy’s favor. Perry offered blistering criticism of McCarthy just before the meeting, saying conservatives had asked for several concessions like commitments on committee seats that, in turn, would get him to 218 votes, but that the California Republican declined.

“Kevin McCarthy had an opportunity to be Speaker of the House. He rejected it,” said Perry, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

McCarthy has worked fervently to lock down support, releasing a long list of concessions he’s prepared to make on rules changes, including making it easier to depose a speaker. In a significant win for conservatives, McCarthy set the number of Republican backers needed to force a vote on deposing the speaker at five, to the dismay of some rank-and-file members. It’s an about-face from just weeks ago, when the conference set the threshold to prompt such a vote, known as the motion to vacate, at a majority of its members. And some conservatives argue that’s not good enough — they want one member to be able to force such a motion.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, aren’t looking to make it any easier on McCarthy. They’ve told their members not to miss any ballots, which would have lowered the number of votes the GOP leader needed, and to vote for the incoming minority leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Some Republicans say McCarthy should make a deal to persuade about a dozen Democrats to leave the floor after several ballots, allowing him to skate through despite a handful of opponents among his own conference. Others, like Bacon, have floated that if conservatives block McCarthy, they could work with a band of centrist Democrats to elect a more moderate Republican instead.

But after weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, Republicans say they’re ready to keep fighting on the floor.

“We’re negotiating with Jell-O,” Armstrong said. ”It’s just time to start voting and keep voting.”

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