Three rounds, but still no president. The elected members of the US House of Representatives closed their session on Tuesday, January 3 without being able to choose their speaker. This is a first in a hundred years: Since 1923, this essential position—the third most important figure in American politics after the president and vice president—had always found a recipient in the first round.
This event represents a setback for the Republicans, and in particular for Kevin McCarthy. Heavy favorite to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the elected Californian has, after three consecutive votes, failed to quell the revolt of a group of Trumpists who consider him a moderate. The elected officials agreed to suspend their votes until Wednesday morning – the time to negotiate behind the scenes.
In the first round, Mr. McCarthy only 203 of the 218 votes needed for his election, despite the 222 elected from his camp in the House. He got an identical score in the second round. During the third and final vote of the day, the Republican-elect even lost one vote (202), his Democratic rival for the post, Hakeem Jeffries, faring better with 212 votes in each of the three rounds, though under no illusions about his chance for the nomination .
“We shouldn’t take it personally, but the future of our country depends on it”, assured Chip Roy, a turbulent elected Republican from Texas. Mr. However, McCarthy’s candidacy is widely supported in his party: the announcement of his nomination on Tuesday in the semi-cycle was received by a large standing ovation in the ranks of the Grand Old Party (GOP).
At the start of the third round, a certain annoyance began to be felt, where the more moderate Republicans encouraged their colleagues to line up around Kevin McCarthy. “We came here to get things done”pleaded the leader of the Republican group, Steve Scalise, which the Democrats opposed to laughter.
Throughout this process, Joe Biden’s party rallied around Hakeem Jeffries’ candidacy, regularly applauding the New York elected official to the sound of “Hakeem, Hakeem, Hakeem!”.
Kevin McCarthy, who has led his group in the House of Commons since 2014, has remained steadfast in the face of opposition within his party. “We stay until we win”he told reporters, adding that the figures “will eventually change” without, however, demonstrating how this would be possible.
The California congressman’s position has been weakened by the GOP’s poor performance in the November 2022 midterm elections and by a handful of elected Trumpists who accuse him of not being conservative enough. These have decided to play spoilsport; five even publicly said they would vote against him, and about twenty of them ultimately did not vote for him. “Kevin doesn’t believe in anything, he has no ideology”and thus tackled Matt Gaetz, turbulent Florida elected official.
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Without their support, the election of Kevin McCarthy seemed very compromised, especially since two other elected Republicans, Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan, received ten and six votes respectively in the first round, none and nineteen in the second, none and twenty. third.
Kevin McCarthy had already narrowly failed in 2015
Kevin McCarthy, however, seemed to want to make promises to this conservative fringe to prevent the story from stuttering: in 2015, he had already narrowly failed to become Speaker of the House of Representatives in the face of a lurch from the right wing of the GOP. But he could not afford to go too far at the risk of alienating moderate Republicans.
With Republicans in the House majority, Joe Biden and the Democrats will not be able to push through major new projects. But with a Senate in the hands of Democrats, their rivals won’t either. Will they entrench themselves in a systematic opposition? That would require them to join forces, while some of their elected representatives – as in the vote on the budget before Christmas – voted with the Democrats.
The choice of speaker therefore also serves to measure Republicans’ ability to cause damage to the White House. Facing a hostile House of Representatives could prove a political boon for Joe Biden if he reaffirms his intention to run again in 2024 – a move he is expected to announce earlier this year. In the event of legislative paralysis, he will no doubt blame the gridlock on weakened Republicans, hoping to turn the tide in his favor.