House Adjourns With McCarthy’s Speaker Bid Still in Doubt

(Bloomberg) -- The House abruptly adjourned Tuesday without electing a new speaker after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failed to win a majority in three rounds of voting amid a rebellion by a small group of conservatives.

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The losses on consecutive votes were a personal and political blow to McCarthy, who has spent the past year courting hard-line conservatives in the Republican caucus, and overshadowed the GOP’s success at winning narrow control of the House. It was the first time in a century that the House hasn’t elected a speaker, the top position in Congress, after one round of balloting.

With his opponents showing no sign of relenting, McCarthy and the holdouts were expected to engage in negotiations through the night. It was unclear what further concessions he could offer that would win over the holdouts.

Lawmakers will reconvene at noon Wednesday and continue voting. The House cannot conduct any other business until a speaker is elected, including swearing in members.

The struggle over the speakership is part of the battle over the direction of the GOP between swing-district moderates and conservatives who have taken up the populist agenda of former President Donald Trump. It also previews the turmoil that will envelop the chamber in the coming months as Congress grapples with raising the debt ceiling and funding the government, issues where a small group of House Republicans will be able to create deadlock.

McCarthy, 57, won backing from most Republicans in all three rounds of voting, but that wasn’t enough to win the majority of the entire House. Nineteen GOP members voted against him in the first two rounds and the opposition grew to 20 in the third.

Representative Matt Gaetz, one of McCarthy’s most vocal detractors, nominated Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who supports McCarthy, in the second round.

“Maybe the right person for speaker of the House isn’t someone who wants it so bad,” Gaetz said on the floor.

McCarthy opponents moved to unify behind Jordan in an attempt to build momentum for an alternative, but the stalwart conservative would have a hard time getting the backing of swing-district moderates.

The infighting grew increasingly personal.

“These people trying to take down McCarthy don’t think about five feet in front of them,” Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas said.

McCarthy has already made a number of concessions to woo conservatives, including a rule that makes it easier to topple the speaker. But his opponents have a list of additional demands, including specific committee assignments, a vote on a balanced budget, a vote on term limits for members of Congress and a strict Texas border plan — all of which come with political minefields of their own.

Moderates, for instance, don’t want to be forced to take a vote on a balanced budget, which could come back to bite them in a primary or general election challenge since balancing the budget entails deep cuts to popular programs like Medicare. And most lawmakers generally have been resistant to term limits.

McCarthy will likely need to mount a two-pronged negotiation — with moderates in his party to see what they could stomach, and with the hard-liners who have opposed his speakership.

South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson, who supported McCarthy’s bid and met with him after the House adjourned, said lawmakers have been asking the holdouts to pin down exactly what they want. He says he expects McCarthy’s opponents to meet Tuesday night and refine their demands.

“If they can settle on something most of the conference can be comfortable with then I think there will be an opportunity to get to yes,” Johnson said.

House Democrats were in no mood to help McCarthy by giving him enough votes to reach 218, a majority of the entire House, or decline to vote and shrink the size of the majority needed. They consistently voted for their newly selected leader, New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, for speaker.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who relinquished her leadership role to Jeffries after the midterm elections, said there was “no chance” that any Democrats would sit out any votes or split with Jeffries in any future ballots.

Texas Representative Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat, likewise signaled there’s no deal in the making between McCarthy and Democrats.

“We like watching the Republicans,” he said with a laugh.

(Updates throughout starting in fifth paragraph)

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