Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy was hitting resistance in his push to become his chamber’s next speaker, as he came up short in an initial round of voting on Tuesday afternoon.
The California congressman lost the first vote with only 203 Republican lawmakers supporting him, against 10 who backed GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, and nine who supported other candidates.
Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York got 212 votes, as his party united behind him.
McCarthy can handle no more than four GOP defections given his party’s 222-212 majority.
Analysts are warning that Tuesday’s tensions over what’s typically a ceremonial election could signal that the House will be dysfunctional throughout 2023 and 2024.
“In our view, the challenge to McCarthy underscores the difficulty that a narrow and fractured GOP majority will have in working with Democrats in the Senate on key issues such as the debt limit, government funding, and Ukraine in 2023,” said Benjamin Salisbury, director of research at Height Capital Markets, in a note.
Salisbury noted that McCarthy has agreed to several concessions in his attempt to become speaker, “but these conditions could hinder the ability of any speaker to pass critical legislation, such as government funding or raising the debt limit.”
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The House is kicking off the new congressional session with the election of a speaker, and it’s required to keep voting until one is chosen. There hasn’t been a need for multiple votes for a speaker election since 1923. McCarthy suggested to reporters on Tuesday morning that he may try to wear down his opponents.
“Look, I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor. I don’t have a problem getting a record for the most votes for speaker,” he said.
McCarthy also criticized the opposition, saying that some GOP representatives demanded certain committee roles, certain budgets and more last night in exchange for their support.
“I will always fight to put the American people first — not a few individuals that want something for themselves,” he said.
One McCarthy opponent, GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, said for his part that the Republican leader “has repeatedly failed to demonstrate any desire to meaningfully change the status quo in Washington.”
“While he claimed to offer fair and equal representation for conservatives on all House committees, when we provided specific names willing to serve on each — as he requested — he balked,” Perry said in a statement.
“Kevin McCarthy had an opportunity to be speaker of the House. He rejected it.”
If McCarthy’s effort flops, the No. 2 House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is viewed as having a good chance of getting the job.
Betting market PredictIt was giving McCarthy around a 50% chance of becoming speaker, while Scalise’s chances were around 36%.
Republicans have taken control of the House thanks to wins in November’s midterm elections, returning to power in that chamber after four years in the minority.
But the GOP’s hopes for a strong red wave two years into President Joe Biden’s term were dashed, as the party has claimed just a small House majority and Democrats have maintained their grip on the Senate.