In the US House of Representatives, the most extreme Republican congresspeople are refusing to stop their rebellion.
After a historic failure to become speaker of the House on Tuesday, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy once again failed to secure sufficient votes on Wednesday. The Republican leader attempted six bids to become speaker in less than 48 hours.
With Republicans only holding a slim majority in the lower chamber of Congress, 21 pro-Trump extremists – who belong to the so-called “Freedom Caucus” – have been able to plunge the legislative branch of government into chaos.
In the moments prior to the start of the session on January 4, several major US media outlets indicated that supporters of the 57-year-old McCarthy were considering the option of postponing the vote for speaker, so as not to repeat Tuesday’s debacle.
Three candidates were nominated to become speaker of the House on Wednesday: McCarthy (backed by the establishment of the Republican Party), Hakeem Jeffries of New York – the new leader of the Democratic caucus, following the retirement of Nancy Pelosi – and Byron Donalds of Florida, who is part of the Republican Party’s far-right Freedom Caucus.
Donalds is not a serious contender for speaker. On Tuesday, the 20 fringe representatives threw their support to other names. Their only goal is to deny McCarthy the speakership for as long as possible. Since they refuse to vote for Democratic Congressman Jeffries, they are left to vote for obscure alternatives.
By the end of Wednesday, three rounds of voting had been held, making for a total of six after Tuesday’s roll calls. All business of the House has been paralyzed, as there is still no speaker to preside over the chamber.
McCarthy needs to achieve a majority of those who take part in the vote. Assuming all 434 representatives participate, that means he needs 218 votes. But the Republicans only hold 222 seats, after only narrowly managing to win a House majority in the midterm elections in November. All 212 Democratic House members are consistently voting for Jeffries.
The congressman from California has been unable to sway the 21 hardest-right members of his party, who are proponents of conspiracy theories. Some are even affiliated with white nationalist groups. As McCarthy has still not offered any concessions to the Democratic caucus, no member of the opposing party appears willing to throw him their vote.
The vote for speaker must be repeated over and over again, until McCarthy or someone else achieves a majority of 218. At the moment, Republican leadership has given no indication that they will offer up a compromise candidate.
The record number of votes for speaker – which has stood since 1855 – is 133 rounds. When this happened more than a century-and-a-half ago, the legislative branch was inoperative for about two months. And the last time that a speaker was not elected on the first ballot was in 1923 – exactly a century ago.
Former president Donald Trump’s tepid endorsement of McCarthy has been useless. In a message posted this past Wednesday morning on Truth Social, Trump wrote: “Some really good conversations took place last night – now it’s time for all our great Republican members of the House of Representatives to vote in favor of Kevin [McCarthy].”
“Republicans: don’t turn a huge win into a gigantic, embarrassing loss. It’s time to celebrate. You deserve it. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job… and maybe even a great job. Just watch!”
Trump is currently seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Ironically, his biggest supporters in the House are the ones who are actively blocking McCarthy.
As chaos engulfed the House of Representatives, President Joe Biden flew to the state of Kentucky to hold an event with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – recently declared an enemy of Trump – to tout an infrastructure investment package that was passed with bipartisan support at the end of 2022. Both parties are eager to promote their support for public works projects.
While leaving the White House to travel to Kentucky, Biden was asked by reporters about the ongoing drama in the House. At first, he shrugged and said “not my problem.” Eventually, though, he added how “shameful” it was that the process is taking so long.
“The rest of the world is watching,” he warned.
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