Rep. Kevin McCarthy is fighting an uphill battle to become House speaker.
On Tuesday, he lost three ballots for the top post before the House adjourned until Wednesday.
Twenty Republicans voted against McCarthy's bid for speaker.
Embattled Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday kicked off the 118th Congress by losing three consecutive ballots to become House speaker, ushering in a chaotic start to the GOP-led chamber as hardline conservatives, who insist they can't trust him, dug in against him.
Nineteen of McCarthy's colleagues voted twice in a row against handing him control of the chamber they collectively flipped in November, torpedoing the nine-term California Republican's path to victory in the narrowly divided House. The death of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin in late November dropped the number of lawmakers in the House to 434 members, which means McCarthy needs 218 votes to get promoted outright.
In the third round of voting late Tuesday afternoon, McCarthy lost yet another Republican — Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida — expanding the anti-McCarthy camp to 20 members.
Donalds said he joined the 19 defectors on the third ballot because "it's clear that Kevin doesn't have the votes."
"What needs to happen now is, we should probably recess, have those conversations as a conference, and figure out, frankly, who can get to 218," Donalds told reporters off of the House floor.
The House adjourned Tuesday evening without electing a speaker. They'll resume the process Wednesday at noon.
Those opposed to McCarthy initially put forth a number of names for the top post, including Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jim Banks of Indiana, and Donalds. All of the detractors coalesced around Jordan on the second and third ballots — even though the Ohio Republican vouched for McCarthy ahead of the second roll call and voted for McCarthy himself.
The procedural slap-in-the-face automatically bumps McCarthy into the fraternity of House speakers who needed to do more horse-trading in order to sew up their own contested candidacies. It also marks the first time in a century that the House failed to elect a speaker on the first try.
After spending months offering holdouts like protest candidate Biggs and anti-McCarthy agitator Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida just about anything they want in exchange for a glidepath to his dream job, McCarthy's instead seen the chorus of naysayers actually snowball.
Nine others — including congressional newcomers Republicans Eli Crane of Arizona, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, and Andy Ogles of Tennessee — joined the fray on Sunday, signing off on a joint letter shooting down McCarthy's latest peace offerings. Crane, Luna, and Ogles all voted for candidates other than McCarthy on Tuesday.
Ahead of the first vote on Tuesday, McCarthy lashed out at House Republicans who he said recently tried to do some arm-twisting of their own by demanding plum committee assignments and bigger budgets from him.
"I will always fight to put the American people first, not a few individuals who want something for themselves," McCarthy told reporters after a contentious conference-wide meeting at the US Capitol, adding: "I'm not going anywhere."
McCarthy earlier on Tuesday said he won't give up on seeking the top job, signaling that additional votes would take place to elect him — a process that may drag out for an uncertain amount of time, bringing the House to a standstill.
"I have the record for the longest speech ever on the floor," McCarthy told reporters. "I don't have a problem getting a record for the most votes for speaker too."
The drama unfolds as the 118th Congress began on Tuesday, welcoming 82 new members. Lawmakers, however, cannot take their oaths of office, and no work can get done, until a House speaker is selected.
McCarthy supporter Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia joined in on the internecine sniping, fuming that Gaetz, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were dooming her best shot at getting assigned to the committees she wants after House Democrats stripped her of panel seats in the previous session.
"I'm the only Republican who has zero committees," she said earlier Tuesday, according to CNN.
This story has been updated with reporting on additional votes.
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