WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for the day Tuesday without a speaker, after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., failed in three consecutive votes to secure enough support to be elected to the post.
The failed votes marked the first time in 100 years that the majority party in the House has not elected a speaker on its first vote. The staunch opposition to McCarthy from a core group of Republicans grew larger over the course of the day, throwing the party into chaos.
Democrats, meanwhile, appeared to enjoy the spectacle of their opponents so deeply divided.
During each of the three voice votes, every Democrat on the floor rallied unanimously around incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. But a sect of conservative Republicans split from their party to back other candidates, including longtime McCarthy ally Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
In an unexpected twist, McCarthy actually lost support as the voting continued, when in the third round Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds announced his support for Jordan, after having voted twice for McCarthy.
As a result of Donalds’ defection, McCarthy won 202 of the 218 votes needed to secure the post in the third round, one vote less than he had in the first two ballots.
Jordan, who nominated and voted for McCarthy, won 20 votes in the third round. Jeffries, the incoming Democratic minority leader, won 212 votes in each of the three rounds.
Following the vote, Donalds suggested his caucus take a break from voting.
“The reality is Rep. Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the votes,” Donalds wrote on Twitter. “I committed my support to him publicly and for two votes on the House Floor. 218 is the number, and currently, no one is there.
“Our conference needs to recess and huddle and find someone or work out the next steps, but these continuous votes aren’t working for anyone,” Donalds wrote. “When the dust settles, we will have a Republican Speaker, now is the time for our conference to debate and come to a consensus.”
McCarthy’s failure to win public support from his entire caucus has cast a shadow over the new Republican majority, exposing divisions within the party that have existed for decades. The differences were deepened by former President Donald Trump, who emboldened a small band of ultra-conservatives.
Trump eventually backed McCarthy’s bid for speaker, as did other influential conservatives such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. But the ex-president’s sway within the GOP caucus did not prevent McCarthy’s repeated defeat.
Following the failed votes Tuesday, Trump pointedly declined to endorse McCarthy with as much gusto as he has previous.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told NBC News, when asked directly if he was sticking with the GOP leader. “I got everybody calling me wanting my support. But let’s see what happens.”
The mood on the House floor Tuesday started out cheerful and energetic, due in part to the presence of members’ children and family members, many of whom came to witness what they expected would be swearing in ceremonies.
But it grew more tense as the day wore on. Until a speaker is elected, the rest of the chamber’s members-elect cannot be sworn in, because their oath of office is administered by the speaker.
While the House held multiple rounds of voting, the Senate, which is again controlled by Democrats, swore in Washington Sen. Patty Murray as the Senate president pro tempore, making her the first woman in American history to hold the position.
While the vice president is technically the president of the Senate, the president pro tem presides over the chamber on a daily basis, signing legislation and administering oaths of office.
The Senate pro tem is also typically third in line for the presidency, after the vice president and the Speaker of the House.
But on Tuesday night, with no speaker elected in the House yet, Murray temporarily became second in line.
Early in the day, McCarthy had vowed to continue holding votes as long as it took to win 218, effectively trying to call his opponents’ bluff.
But after the third vote, both Democrats and Republicans grew visibly anxious to leave their seats. Unlike most votes, where members can vote in absentia, the speaker vote must be conducted in person, leaving no room for members to come and go.
With no immediate solution to the Republican impasse on the horizon, the House held a voice vote on a motion to adjourn that was loudly endorsed by both parties.
McCarthy’s conservative opponents still have a long list of demands they believe McCarthy has failed to meet.