WASHINGTON —Republicans spent the last two years crafting a legislative plan in the event they recaptured the House, proposing bills to take to the floor and investigations of the Biden administration they would pursue.
But now those plans are frozen as the battle for the speaker drags on into a third day. Nothing, not even the swearing in of members, can occur until a leader is chosen. Members are growing frustrated as the challenge by conservative hardliners to Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the top job continues.
Republicans’ stalemate over who should lead the chamber for the next two years dragged on Wednesday, with McCarthy failing to get the votes needed to become speaker on two more ballots.
The second day of floor votes saw 21 GOP lawmakers vote against the California congressman, despite ongoing efforts to turn members to his side. That was an increase of one from Tuesday, with Indiana’s Victoria Spartz now voting present.
Until McCarthy wins enough votes, or the House elects another speaker, members-elect cannot be sworn in, meaning that while the 118th Congress is technically underway, the House has no members and no agreed-upon rules under which to operate, such as how legislation is brought to the floor. The clerk of the House has been conducting the proceedings.
A social media post by former Republican President Donald Trump in the morning didn’t sway the holdouts to McCarthy’s side when the chamber came into session at noon.
“Republicans, do not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat,” Trump wrote, adding that McCarthy would do a “good job, and maybe even a great job.”
Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, a McCarthy opponent, called on Trump to reverse course during a floor speech in the afternoon, saying that the party should work together and “stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us.”
“Even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off,” Boebert said. “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.”
McCarthy said before the floor votes that Republicans plan to keep talking and that he had the “same game plan as yesterday.”
“We’ll find an agreement where we all get together, and we’ll work through this,” McCarthy told reporters around noon.
On a call with select Republicans on Wednesday morning, McCarthy touted his support from Trump, according to a GOP aide.
“I’m not going anywhere,” McCarthy said on the call that he led with Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and GOP Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota.
Adjournment unsuccessful in unifying GOP
The House held three votes for speaker on Tuesday before the chamber adjourned for the night in an unsuccessful attempt for Republicans to unify around a candidate.
McCarthy lost the backing of 19 members on the first two votes before Florida’s Byron Donalds joined the group of lawmakers opposing McCarthy’s bid for speaker during the third ballot, bringing the toll of opponents to 20.
McCarthy needs the backing of at least 218 House members, a challenging task at the moment, given he can only lose four votes amid House Republicans’ especially narrow majority. That means McCarthy and his backers need to get at least 17 of the 21 members who voted against him Wednesday to change their minds.
“We have a very ambitious agenda we need to get started from day one,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) “Every day that we don’t have a speaker is a day where the radical left wins.”
The delay has already cut into the GOP’s proposed timeline. McCarthy (R-Calif.) lamented to reporters that the House was unable to pass legislation to reverse plans in Democrats’ major tax and climate law (Public Law 117-169) that would add 87,000 new IRS employees. McCarthy had pledged to bring up that measure on the first day of the 118th Congress.
“We wanted to set up a number of investigations we have going, we wanted to notice the different committee hearings we’d have actually on the border,” McCarthy added. “None of that transpired.
Floridian backed for speaker
The GOP lawmakers opposing McCarthy rallied around Florida’s Donalds as their preferred candidate on the fourth, fifth and sixth ballots Wednesday, moving away from pushing for Ohio’s Jim Jordan during the second and third ballots on Tuesday.
Texas Republican Chip Roy got a standing ovation from the entire House chamber when he noted that nominating Donalds for speaker, along with Democrats’ nomination of New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, represented “the first time in history there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House.”
The House held a second full standing ovation after Roy said that “we do not seek to judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
But the GOP split over who should hold the speaker’s gavel continued throughout the afternoon with the vast majority of the House Republican Conference pressing for McCarthy — both during floor speeches and in what appeared to be tense conversations on the House floor.