For first time in 100 years, House fails to elect new Speaker amid GOP opposition to McCarthy

 January 4, 2023

The new session of Congress began on Tuesday and the first order of business for the incoming Republican majority was to elect the next Speaker of the House -- but things advanced no further than that over the course of the day.

In the end, the House adjourned to conclude its first day of the new session without having elected a new Speaker, as the presumptive top candidate for that position, former House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), failed to garner majority support on three successive ballots, Breitbart reported.

The chaotic development was as stunning as it was significant, as no other pressing business for the House -- including swearing in new members, establishing House rules, and handing out committee assignments -- can be addressed until a new Speaker is in place.

No Speaker after three ballots

It had been known ahead of time that Leader McCarthy would face some opposition to his speakership bid from within his own GOP conference, predominately from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and with only a slim margin of a majority over the Democrats, McCarthy could only afford to lose a handful of GOP votes and still achieve his goal.

With 434 members in attendance, the magic number needed to win the speakership was 218, a number that McCarthy predictably failed to reach on the first ballot cast.

The Democrats had nominated their own new Minority Leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), to be the speaker, and he garnered 212 votes in comparison to just 203 for McCarthy, with the remaining Republican votes being split among Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Jim Banks (R-IN), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and even former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

The second ballot played out similarly to the first, according to Breitbart, in that both Jeffries and McCarthy received the same number of votes as before, with the main difference being that much of the anti-McCarthy GOP opposition coalesced their support behind Jordan -- who, ironically, actually nominated McCarthy for the second round and has clearly expressed that he has no desire to be the Speaker.

The third and, ultimately, final ballot on Tuesday actually went even worse for McCarthy, as instead of picking up any support from those who previously opposed him, he actually lost a vote as Donalds shifted his backing from McCarthy to Jordan.

Concessions have been made

Prior to any of that occurring, Politico had reported on the substantial concessions on proposed House Rules changes that McCarthy had made ahead of time to try and placate his Republican critics and win over their support.

Some of those proposals included significantly lowering the threshold of members needed for a motion to remove a Speaker, increasing transparency on the process for bringing bills to the floor for a vote, restoring mandatory offsetting cuts to all spending bills, strengthening the Ethics Committee, and reversing some of the Democratic rules changes from recent years.

Unfortunately for McCarthy, however, those and other promised concessions were insufficient to win over his staunchest critics, as was evidenced just days later by his failure to win the speakership on Tuesday.

McCarthy not backing down; other options being discussed

CBS News reported that Tuesday's events marked the first time in exactly 100 years that Congress had failed to select a House Speaker on the first ballot.

After the House had adjourned without having elected a new Speaker, McCarthy made it clear to reporters and supporters that he wasn't backing out of the race and still believed that he would eventually prevail in his bid to be the overall leader of the House.

That could require even more concessions from him or the majority threshold being lowered by way of a number of Democrats being absent or simply voting "present." However, Breitbart noted that there are discussions on the sidelines of a "doomsday scenario" for the GOP in which establishment Republicans and Democrats agree to share power and nominate and elect a moderate centrist who would tie the hands of the Republican majority and grant additional privileges to the Democratic minority for the next two years.

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