Conservatives in the House demand new leadership
Twenty Republicans stand up to the party establishment in historic move
It’s been a hundred years since the vote for speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives has gone to more than one round of votes. Since Tuesday, at the outset of the 118th Congress, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has repeatedly fallen short of the needed 218 votes now ten times, leaving the chamber in temporary limbo.
The House returned Wednesday to keep voting until a speaker is chosen. Without a speaker, the chamber cannot consider legislation, conduct committee business, or vote for its rules of operation. Heading into session, McCarthy was the favorite to win the speakership. He served as House minority leader during the Biden administration and won the leadership vote from his party back in November.
Now McCarthy faces opposition not just from Democrats but also from some members of the House Freedom Caucus. In early 2022, the group of 42 conservative Republicans made it clear they wanted to change certain rules for how the House of Representatives operates, citing frustrations with a growing insulation of leadership.
“The leaders of both political parties have consolidated so much power that most members of Congress have no meaningful role in the legislative process beyond voting up or down,” the caucus said in a statement.
The caucus released a set of nine proposed changes to the House procedural rules—the guidelines that dictate how the body conducts business. The changes would decentralize the power of leadership, providing more influence to groups within the chamber. McCarthy has already agreed to make it easier for House Republicans to initiate a vote of no confidence against whomever is elected speaker.
Nine congressmen published a document on Sunday evening, expressing their continued dissatisfaction ahead of the new Congress.
“[The concession] is a welcome and telling admission of the longstanding and deep dysfunction of the House of Representatives … however, despite some progress achieved, Mr. McCarthy’s statement comes impossibly late to address continued deficiencies ahead of the opening of the 118th Congress,” the document stated.
Over the past week, McCarthy has racked up the concessions. Over the course of several closed-door meetings, he has agreed to allow more Freedom Caucus members on the House Rules Committee. He conceded a point to allow floor votes on term limits for members and for border policy legislation. Nevertheless, hardline Freedom Caucus members like Matt Gaetz of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado say they’ll never vote for McCarthy.
On Tuesday, 20 Republican members eventually voted for a candidate other than McCarthy. These picks have ranged from Andy Biggs of Arizona to Jim Jordan of Ohio to even non-members such as Lee Zeldin of New York or Donald Trump. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, one of the signers of Sunday’s statement, voiced the group’s frustration on the floor as he nominated Jordan in the third round of voting.
“We haven’t offered an amendment on the floor of this body since May 2016. The fact is this place has to change. And the change comes by either adopting rules and procedures that actually make us do our job or it comes from leadership,” Roy said with a gesture towards McCarthy.
McCarthy’s supporters say his leadership is the quickest, most effective way to keep the party together. In nominating McCarthy on the first vote, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York said his leadership would help prioritize conservative objectives.
“As a Republican leader over the past several years, Kevin has taken the fight to one-party Democrat rule on behalf of the American people … Kevin McCarthy has earned his speakership,” Stefanik said.
Leaving the House chamber from the third round of votes on Tuesday, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who cast his third vote for Jordan, told reporters that Republicans would do well to realize nothing was likely to change in the short term without further negotiation: “It’s not there. It’s pretty apparent now that the three ballots were not there. Obviously we have some things to figure out, but I’m fully confident we’re going to get this thing figured out.”
When asked if he would change back his vote to McCarthy, Donalds suggested it wasn’t out of the question.
“Yeah, I’d consider it,” Donalds said. “But again, there’s got to be a pathway to get to 218. It is clear that the pathway does not exist.”
Donalds has since become a candidate himself. But after failing to pick up votes in three consecutive rounds, Freedom Caucus members nominated Kevin Hern, R-Okla., as another compromise candidate. As of the tenth ballot, Herns pulled seven votes from Donalds.
McCarthy held at 200, losing one to a member leaving town for a medical appointment. He told reporters in the Capitol today that his team needs more time for negotiations, and a revolving door of both supporters and detractors have cycled through the speaker’s office where McCarthy preemptively set up shop.
– with reporting by Carolina Lumetta
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