WASHINGTON — In the House of Representatives, the first day of the 118th Congress devolved into chaos, adjourning without a speaker or the swearing in of lawmakers amid a revolt by hardline GOP members.
Yes, the day began on a celebratory note, with enthusiastic newly elected members and plenty of children and infants, dressed up in their finest outfits, accompanying their parents on the House floor, as well as open houses in lawmaker’s offices for constituents. Republicans were ready to seize the agenda, electing a new House speaker and passing on their first day in power a bill that would deprive the Internal Revenue Service of the additional funds President Biden and a Democratic Congress approved last year.
But none of that happened.
Attempts to vote Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaker failed three times when 19 Republican hardliners voted for other GOP candidates in the first two roll calls and 20 voted against him – and for Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio – in the third roll call.
McCarthy needed a majority of lawmakers present, or 218 votes, and never received more than 203. That was fewer than the 212 cast for the Democratic candidate for speaker, Rep. Hakim Jeffries, D-N.Y.
By the third roll call, the children who were there to witness history were tired and bored and babies were cranky and crying. House Republicans, who should have celebrated their electoral victory, were also unhappy.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, as the House Republican whip, is now a member of his party’s leadership and on Tuesday, that leadership and his party was in disarray. Emmer ended the day strategizing with other members of the GOP House leadership behind closed doors as to what to do, with few options opened to them.
Democrats, who unanimously voted for Jeffries, were jubilant.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, whom McCarthy has vowed to remove from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “I don’t think it’s happening,” referring to McCarthy getting enough votes and her pending committee removal.
“We’ll see,” she added.
The House adjourned after the third attempt to elect a speaker and will try again on Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th, who like all other Republican House members from Minnesota supported McCarthy’s candidacy, remained optimistic.
“I believe McCarthy will be our next speaker,” he said.
Stauber said he believes McCarthy did a good job leading Republicans in the House when they were in the minority.
Yet some Republicans were livid about the failure to elect a Republican speaker on Tuesday, a failure that results in the inability to swear in new members of begin work on a GOP agenda. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade some of the hardliners determined to block McCarthy.
“They are enemies now,” he said.
Crenshaw is concerned McCarthy may make a deal with House Democrats to become speaker.
“We will end up forging more compromise with Democrats,” Crenshaw said. “We should be terrified of that. I don’t want that to happen.”
Still, a compromise of some sort with Democrats was among the scenarios that emerged Tuesday to break the impasse.
Other scenarios featured offering up other House Republicans, including the combative Jordan or the No.2 member of the House leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., for speaker.
Meanwhile, a defiant McCarthy vowed to press ahead, saying “we stay in until we win.” But to try to win over the hardliners who rebelled against him, McCarthy has already negotiated away nearly all he can give.
“I don’t know how we get to a speaker,” said Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd. “This is exactly why folks in swing districts like mine rejected Republicans. They are being held hostage by the far right.”
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd, said McCarthy was hobbled by the narrow victory the GOP won on Election Day. And his ability to lead was not helped by Tuesday’s rebellion by the right flank of his party.
“It’s hard enough to manage a very thin majority,” Phillips said.
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had an equally narrow margin and was able to keep her party unified, some Democrats pointed out Tuesday. On her way out of the House chamber, Pelosi was asked about the failed votes for speaker and the House adjournment without anyone being sworn in.
“It speaks for itself,” Pelosi said.
The last time a speaker election went to multiple ballots was in 100 years ago, in 1923, when Speaker Frederick Gillett, R-Mass., was elected on the ninth ballot.