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Kevin McCarthy falls short in 3 votes to appoint next House speaker

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., failed in three separate ballots Tuesday to earn the votes necessary to be appointed the next speaker of the House of Representatives, an embarrassing development for his party.

While Republicans took control of the House in November’s midterm elections, they fell far short of a predicted landslide victory, leaving only a slim majority to work with. McCarthy could afford only four defections; on the first ballot he lost 19 Republican votes. On a second ballot, later in the afternoon, he lost 19 votes again. On a third ballot he lost 20.

Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The vote for speaker will continue for an indefinite number of additional ballots until a candidate can secure a majority, but after three failed attempts the House was adjourned Tuesday until noon ET on Wednesday, when the chamber will hold another vote.

McCarthy and his allies have said he plans to continue his quest to be named to the top leadership position, which would require convincing dissenting Republicans or Democratic votes to support his candidacy. Another lawmaker, such as the House GOP’s No. 2, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., could also emerge as a consensus pick.

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Among the representatives other than McCarthy receiving votes on the first ballot were Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Jim Banks, R-Ind.; Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.; and Byron Donalds, R-Fla. On the second ballot, all dissenting Republicans voted for Jordan, who supported McCarthy. Donalds, who had voted for McCarthy twice, switched his vote to Jordan on the third ballot.

“The reality is Rep. Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the votes. I committed my support to him publicly and for two votes on the House Floor. 218 is the number, and currently, no one is there,” Donalds said in a statement via Twitter, adding, “When the dust settles, we will have a Republican Speaker, now is the time for our conference to debate and come to a consensus. This will take time, Democracy is messy at times, but we will be ready to govern on behalf of the American people. Debate is healthy.”

After the second vote, McCarthy suggested that the Republican House members who didn’t vote for him are motivated by self-interest.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about the members now, because the members who are holding out ... want something for their personal selves,” he told reporters. “If anyone wants to earn anything, committee slots or others, you go through the conference. You don’t get it by leveraging here.”

The last time the selection of a House speaker took more than one ballot was 1923, when nine ballots were required for Frederick Gillett to take the gavel. It took the 34th Congress, convened in 1855, 133 ballots and two months to settle on Nathaniel Prentice Banks.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R- Ohio, speaks at a microphone in front of other House members.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R- Ohio, speaks on behalf of McCarthy on Tuesday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Democrats were gleeful, noting they were “united” behind New York’s Hakeem Jeffries as their party’s leader in the chamber after Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped down from the role. Jeffries received a round of applause when he voted for himself, as did Pelosi, who remains in the House as a rank-and-file member.

McCarthy, who had served as the minority leader, wooed his GOP critics by endorsing rule changes, including making it easier for a smaller group of members to challenge leadership in a procedure known as vacating the chair. The California Republican, who had lost a bid for speaker in 2015, urged the party to support him in a closed-door meeting earlier Tuesday, saying, “I earned this job.”

“Kevin McCarthy is not the right candidate to be Speaker,” Rep. Don Bishop, R-N.C., said Tuesday in a statement that was representative of some of the opposition’s feelings. “He has perpetuated the Washington status quo that makes this body one of the most unsuccessful and unpopular institutions in the country.”

Members of the House of Representatives participate in the vote for speaker
Members of the House of Representatives participate in a vote for speaker on Tuesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“There’s times we’re going to have to argue with our own members, if they’re looking out for only positions for themselves, not for the country,” McCarthy said Tuesday morning before the vote. “For the last two months we worked together. As a whole conference, we developed rules that empower all members. But we’re not empowering certain members over others.”

A former Republican leader in the California state Assembly, McCarthy first won election to the House in 2006. In a potentially ominous sign for how long the process might take, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., said she’d vote for him “no matter how many times it takes.”

Following the initial failed vote, McCarthy conceded it was possible that the process could take days. One House Republican, speaking on background after the ballot, told Yahoo News that “no one knows” what is happening with the vote, adding, “I don’t think they have a plan.”