Kevin McCarthy really, really, really wants to be speaker of the House of Representatives. It’s not coming. The 118th Congress began on Tuesday, and though Republicans won control of the chamber last November, a not-insignificant portion of the party remains steadfastly opposed to giving McCarthy the gavel. McCarthy has lost three consecutive speakership ballots, with 19 Republicans opposing him on the first two, and 20 on the third.
Rep. Byron Donalds joined the 19 other defectors to vote against McCarthy on the third ballot, which means McCarthy is drifting even further away from securing the majority necessary.
Here’s the full list of Republicans who have bucked McCarthy, who could only afford to lose four votes:
- Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.)
- Dan Bishop (R-N.C.)
- Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)
- Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.)
- Michael Cloud (R-Texas)
- Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.)
- Byron Donalds (R-Fla.)
- Eli Crane (R-Ariz.)
- Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)
- Bob Good (R-Va.)
- Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
- Andy Harris (R-Md.)
- Ana Paulina Luna (R-Fla.)
- Mary Miller (R-Ill.)
- Ralph Norman (R-S.C.)
- Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.)
- Scott Perry (R-Pa.)
- Matt Rosendale (R-Mt.)
- Chip Roy (R-Texas)
- Keith Self (R-Texas)
Biggs received several votes on the first ballot, as did Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who himself voted for McCarthy. Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) each received a vote, as did outgoing Rep. Zee Zeldin. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) received 212 votes. McCarthy finished with 203. The second and third ballots, which were held immediately after the first, saw the defectors rally behind Jordan.
The opposition to McCarthy is centered in the far-right Freedom Caucus, whose chair, Rep. Scott Perry, bashed McCarthy in a statement just hours before the voting was slated to commence.
“Kevin McCarthy had an opportunity to be Speaker of the House,” Perry wrote after listing the ways McCarthy has failed him. “He rejected it.”
Perry, one of the Republicans at the center of the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was one of four House members the Jan. 6 committee recently referred to the House Ethics Committee for investigation for failing to comply with subpoenas. McCarthy was also among the four, and the latter’s slow embrace of the Capitol riot and opposition to its investigation was widely seen as part of his larger maneuverings to become House speaker. The party’s hardliners aren’t satisfied, though, with Perry lambasting McCarthy for failing to accede to their demands. “McCarthy has repeatedly failed to demonstrate any desire to meaningfully change the status quo in Washington,” he wrote on Tuesday.
McCarthy needs a majority of the members present to vote for him to become speaker, which should mean he needs 218 votes (222 Republicans are slated to be sworn in on Tuesday). There were reportedly a dozen or more Republicans who opposed him, including Gaetz, Biggs, and Boebert. “We’re done with Kevin McCarthy,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Bob Good said on Monday. “We’re done negotiating with Kevin McCarthy. I am not interested in negotiating with him. He’s not a trustworthy negotiator.”
The vast majority of the party supports McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, as does former President Donald Trump. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Monday night tweeted that those opposing McCarthy were “negotiating for ‘Me First’ positions.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told Fox News on Tuesday that it’s “like the Democrats paid this people off” to “make it look like the Republicans can’t govern.” Crenshaw added to CNN that Republicans who won’t vote for McCarthy are “narcissists” and “enemies” because “they have made it clear they prefer a Democrat agenda.”
McCarthy failing to secure a majority of votes of the first ballot means the House will keep voting until he, or someone else, does. McCarthy has reportedly said he’ll go through as many ballots as it takes to grab the gavel, and his supporters appear just as resolved to make sure he does so. “If they think this is going to be a game of chicken, to see who’s going to blink first, they’re going to be sadly surprised,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), a McCarthy supporter, told Politico. “We’ll be here until the Fourth of July voting for McCarthy.”
It’s been 100 years since the House took more than a single ballot to elect a speaker. It took nine ballots in 1923. In 1855, it took 133 ballots over two months. There have also been two occasions when the House has voted to elect a speaker by plurality rather than a majority. If this were to be the case this year, Hakeem Jeffries would likely take up the gavel despite Republicans controlling the chamber. Some of McCarthy’s most vocal opponents have indicated they’d be fine with this, with Punchbowl News reporting that Perry, Gaetz, and Boebert are asking for “their own legal entity” to “wage lawsuits.”
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McCarthy has so far refused to cow to the Freedom Caucus’ ludicrous demands, but given the extent to which he’s already debased himself in pursuit of the speaker’s gavel, it wouldn’t be totally shocking if he winds up caving should enough of the holdouts refuse to budge. Trump reportedly told him to on Monday night, but McCarthy refused. It likely wouldn’t even matter if he did, as it’s clear the Freedom Caucus doesn’t want him to be speaker one way or another. “They’re a big block,” Matt Salmon, one of the Freedom Caucus’ founding members, recently told Rolling Stone. “They can they can they can totally undo him — or they can be his biggest champion.”
McCarthy was optimistic things are going to go his way on Tuesday. “We’re going to have a good day today,” he told reporters before heading to the House chamber.