McCarthy fails in election as House Speaker

McCarthy fails in election as House Speaker

fFor Kevin McCarthy, it was to be the moment the Republican had been working toward for years: first the prayer, then the oath of flag, and then his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest political office in the United States. That’s how it had been for the past ninety-nine years when a new Congress was being constituted, and that’s how it was to happen on Tuesday.

Sofia Dreisbach

North American political correspondent based in Washington.

McCarthy had had his things brought to the speaker’s office the day before – knowing full well that he was by no means certain of the post. But when McCarthy sat in the benches in the House of Representatives at noon, he smiled. More than four hours later, the corners of his mouth still turned up when his name was called out again for the vote. But the historic defeat was already written all over his face.

McCarthy had failed three times in the meantime to unite the necessary majority of 218 votes for the speaker’s office. His Democratic challenger got more votes than he did three times, despite the fact that the Democrats were outnumbered in the House of Representatives. Three times, McCarthy’s heavily criticized attempt to fish for votes on the right-wing and in some cases right-wing extremist fringe of the party was obviously not worthwhile.

In the first two rounds of voting, 19 Republicans refused to support McCarthy, and in the third even twenty Republicans. Because of the narrow Republican majority, it shouldn’t be more than four for a win. The last time a vote had to be taken more than once was a hundred years ago. In 1923 it took nine ballots to choose a speaker.

The Tuesday should actually be a day of celebration for the Republicans. After the congressional elections in early November, the new, albeit historically thin, Republican majority in the House of Representatives was to begin work. But the open revolt of the right wing made visible how deep the rifts are that run through the party. It also delayed the swearing-in of hundreds of MPs and paralyzed the work of the chamber until a spokesman was finally elected.

There might be a “battle” in the plenary, McCarthy said on Tuesday before the vote. But it’s about the whole group and the country, “and that’s okay with me”. He will always fight to put the American people first, not the interests of individuals, the faction leader said.

McCarthy’s concessions didn’t help

On the evening before the election, some of his declared opponents of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus had called on him and, among other things, demanded specific posts in committees – demands that McCarthy rejected despite many previous compromises. Between the second and third ballot, the Republican assured journalists: “I’ll stay until we win.” He knows what he’s doing. For years, McCarthy has maneuvered between the party establishment, to which he belongs, and the right.

That’s what he reprimanded donald trump publicly for his role in the storming of the Capitol, but then voted against a second impeachment and drove to see Trump in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. However, McCarthy could not convince most right-wingers in the party. Concessions such as making a five-vote vote of no confidence against the speaker possible in the future did not help either – with which McCarthy was basically digging his own grave. Many on the right wing appear less interested in compromise than in blackmail and disrupting democratic processes in their opposition to the faction leader.

In the battle for the speaker’s post, however, McCarthy spared no voice, including that of the far-right MPs Marjorie Taylor Greene. She sided with the Republicans, in contrast to the many like-minded colleagues who harbor deep distrust of McCarthy; arguably in exchange for a promise to place them on influential committees. On Tuesday, too, she publicly supported McCarthy and criticized the MPs from her own ranks who had called for specific seats in committees – she had not done so.

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