The U.S. House of Representatives, mired in a chaotic leadership battle, rejected Republican Kevin McCarthy’s bid to lead the chamber three more times on Wednesday as a small group of holdouts in the party defied former President Donald Trump’s call for unity.
Despite Trump’s appeal, McCarthy fell short in three consecutive votes for House speaker after three losing votes on Tuesday, as roughly 20 Republicans on the party’s right flank refused to back a candidate they deemed ideologically unreliable.
Lawmakers then voted to recess until 8 p.m. ET (0100 GMT on Thursday) while they seek a solution behind closed doors.
“We’ve either got to get some real conversations going with a select group of people, or we’ve got to get everybody back in the caucus room and start beating the daylights out of each other,” Republican Representative Jeff Van Drew, a McCarthy supporter, told reporters.
The last time the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot was 1923, a century ago.
The leadership fight has provided a dismaying start for the new Republican majority in the House after the party managed to secure a slim majority in the chamber – 222-212 – in November’s midterm elections. The internal struggle underscores the challenges the party could face over the next two years, heading into the 2024 presidential election.
Though McCarthy’s supporters had hoped the repeated votes – now numbering six – would wear down opponents, they failed to make headway.
McCarthy, who has served as the top House Republican since 2019, secured only 201 votes of the 218 needed, while 20 Republicans voted for Representative Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican first elected in 2020. One Republican declined to back a specific candidate. All 212 of the chamber’s Democrats voted for their leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
“I think the path is very difficult right now for Kevin,” Donalds told Fox News after the vote.
McCarthy said he ultimately would prevail.
“We’ll get there,” McCarthy told reporters before Wednesday’s voting.
Opponents said the leadership fight could drag on for weeks.
“It’s worth taking a few days or a few weeks to get the best possible speaker,” said Republican Representative Bob Good, one of the holdouts.
The vote is also a rebuke of Trump, who urged fellow Republicans to set aside their differences.
“It’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social on Wednesday ahead of the day’s votes.
Trump remains an influential figure among Republicans and is so far the only announced presidential candidate for 2024. Some in the party have blamed Trump for the failure of Republicans to win more congressional seats in the midterms.
Hardliners called on him to take another tack.
“The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,'” Republican Representative Lauren Boebert said, referring to Trump.
The weaker-than-expected performance in the midterm elections contributed to the House leadership crisis by leaving McCarthy dependent upon the support of a small group of hardliners in his party. That group wants greater control over leadership and more influence over the party’s approach to spending and debt.
Republican control of the House could empower the party to frustrate Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. But the leadership standoff raised questions about whether the House will be able to meet basic obligations such as funding government operations, let alone advance other policy priorities ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
“This is not a good look,” Biden said of the House leadership struggle, speaking to reporters at the White House. “It’s not a good thing. This is the United States of America, and I hope they get their act together.”
The House hardliners have blasted such legislative compromises, raising fears about the ability of Congress to prevent default when the federal government approaches its debt ceiling later this year.
McCarthy’s opponents on Tuesday selected conservative Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio as their candidate. Jordan backs McCarthy.
Incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana also was seen as a possible alternative.
The right-wing rebellion ratcheted up frustrations among other Republicans, who said McCarthy’s opponents were stalling plans to investigate Biden and his administration and advance legislative priorities on immigration, energy and other matters.
Some Republicans said continued obstruction could lead them to work with Democrats to elect a moderate Republican as speaker. Jeffries told reporters that Republicans had not approached Democrats about that option.