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In historic House votes, Kevin McCarthy fails on repeated ballots

“I earned this job,” Kevin McCarthy told his members this morning. As the votes for speaker get underway, not nearly enough of his own members agreed.


UPDATE (Jan. 3, 2023, 5:05 p.m. ET): This post has been updated with new details throughout.

The 2022 midterm elections were exactly eight weeks ago today. In their aftermath, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to realize that if he wanted to become speaker, he’d need to start negotiating and bartering with his intra-party detractors. The Californian assumed he’d figure out a way to reach an agreement with his own members.

That assumption was overly optimistic. Indeed, after months of behind-the-scenes talks, and the rollout of a rules package designed to make his far-right members happy, McCarthy conceded this morning — just hours ahead of his fateful floor vote — that he hadn’t yet secured the GOP votes he’d need to claim the gavel.

But in a curious tactical move, the incumbent Republican leader oversaw a House GOP conference meeting this morning, not offering more concessions, but instead insisting that he was entitled to the leadership office. “I earned this job,” McCarthy reportedly told his members.

Not nearly enough House members agreed with him. The Associated Press reported on today's dramatic developments:

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was dealt a historic defeat in first-round voting Tuesday to become House speaker, vowing to try again but sending the new Congress into opening day tumult as conservative colleagues opposed his leadership. McCarthy had pledged a “battle on the floor” for as long as it takes to overcome right-flank fellow Republicans who were refusing to give him their votes. But it was not at all clear how the embattled GOP leader could rebound after becoming the first House speaker nominee in 100 years to fail to win the gavel from his fellow party members on the initial vote.

Headed into this week, there were five House Republicans who made clear they would not support McCarthy's bid. According to the final tally in the first round, however, the GOP leader lost 19 of his own members.

If my back-of-the-envelope notes are correct, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona ended up with 10 votes, followed by six votes for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Former Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York received one vote, as did Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Byron Donalds of Florida. (Here's a full list of the 19 Republicans who voted for someone other than McCarthy.)

In fact, adding insult to injury, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries ended up with 212 votes, to McCarthy's 203. As a practical/procedural matter, this is largely inconsequential — the next speaker will need a majority, not a plurality — but as a political matter, the gap twisted the knife.

The historic nature of the developments is worth appreciating. Since the Civil War, the House of Representatives has elected a new speaker on the first ballot in every instance except one, and that exception was exactly 100 years ago.

Today, it happened again.

In fact, it happened twice. After the first ballot failed to elect a speaker, the chamber decided to simply try again, starting the process over with a second ballot.

This time, instead of Biggs serving as the alternative for anti-McCarthy Republicans, the other choice was Jordan — who, coincidentally, was the same congressman who submitted McCarthy's name for nomination moments earlier.

The numbers didn't change: McCarthy lost 19 Republican votes on the first ballot, and he lost the same 19 Republican votes on the second ballot. While those votes were spread out among five alternatives in the first round, all 19 went to Jordan in the second round.

Jeffries, meanwhile, again finished with 212 votes, which was again nine more than McCarthy.

This, of course, led to a third ballot, which proved to be even worse for the GOP leadership: This time, Jordan ended up with 20 votes, up from 19, because Republican Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who'd voted for McCarthy in the first two rounds, backed Jordan in the third round. In a statement, Donalds said McCarthy simply lacks the support to prevail, and "these continuous votes aren’t working for anyone."