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US House without a speaker after McCarthy loses sixth round

January 5, 2023

Numerous defections within the Republican party have blocked Kevin McCarthy from becoming House speaker, leaving the lower chamber of the US Congress unable to function.

 US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reacts as Representatives cast their votes for Speaker of the House on the first day of the 118th Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol Building on Tuesday
Kevin McCarthy of California failed to secure the gavel in three rounds of voting TuesdayImage: Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans in the US House of Representatives late Wednesday were again unable to vote Kevin McCarthy into the role of House Speaker, as disagreements within the party threaten to sabotage a narrow majority won in the November midterm election

After six rounds of voting over two days, McCarthy has yet to receive the 218 votes needed to take the speaker's gavel, as a group of around 20 hardline conservatives has refused to back the California Republican. 

McCarthy has only secured 201 votes in each of the last three rounds of voting, with holdout Republicans voting for an alternative nominee, Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, and Republican Victoria Spartz of Indiana voting "present." 

Before the sixth round kicked off, Republican Kat Cammack of Florida, who voted for McCarthy, described the deadlock as "groundhog day."

What happens next?

The House reconvened at 8 p.m. Washington time (1:00 GMT Thursday) in an effort to dissolve the impasse but adjourned for a second day without resolving the matter.

The House will reconvene on Thursday at noon. Voting will resume until a candidate reaches the magic number of 218 votes.

"I don't think voting tonight is productive," McCarthy said on Wednesday, exiting a lengthy closed-door meeting with key holdouts. "I think people need to work a little more. I don't think a vote tonight would make any difference. But a vote in the future could.'

Some Democrats have expressed to the media their readiness to vote for what they described as a moderate Republican who would be ready to reach a middle ground regarding issues such as government funding and debt ceiling.

Until a speaker is chosen, representatives elected to the House cannot be sworn in, leaving Congress' lower chamber unable to function. 

What happened prior to the vote Wednesday?

The Republican party — which took control of the lower chamber in November — had previously failed to reach a consensus behind McCarthy following three votes Tuesday.

The chaos meant that McCarthy even trailed in votes behind Democratic House minority leader candidate, Hakeem Jeffries of New York. 

Following three rounds of voting in which McCarthy failed to secure the top job in the House, McCarthy told reporters late Tuesday following closed-door meetings: "Today, is that the day I wanted to have? No."

McCarthy added that dropping out of the race for the gavel was "not going to happen."

Early Wednesday, US President Joe Biden weighed in at the White House before jetting off to Kentucky to tote the bipartisan infrastructure plan that he signed off on late last year with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Biden said the mess in the House was "embarrassing" and "not a good look," while noting that "the rest of the world is looking."

What is the fallout from failed rounds of voting?

For the first time since 1923, a nominee for House speaker has been unable to secure the gavel in the first vote.

The longest vote in US history to secure the speaker's gavel occurred before the US Civil War in 1855, which dragged on for two months, with 133 ballots.

Early Wednesday, former US President Donald Trump urged members of his party to rally behind McCarthy to end the chaos that unfolded Tuesday.

Trump weighed in on his social media platform "Truth Social," which provides him with a direct line to his base, to urge holdouts in his party vote for McCarthy, writing: "Close the deal, take the victory."

Trump added: "Republicans, do not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat."

The chaos in the voting is also indicative of a larger problem confronting the Republican Party.

For example, the cover of Wednesday's New York Post, part of the newspaper empire of Rupert Murdoch and a staunch supporter of conservative causes, featured two of the Republican defectors who voted against McCarthy, Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, with the words "Grow up!" 

wmr,ar,rmt/rt,jsi (AP, AFP)