House leadership is in limbo as McCarthy loses 3 rounds of voting for speaker
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A new session of Congress begins today, and the first order of business in the House is to elect a speaker. California Republican Kevin McCarthy was nominated by House Republicans for that top leadership post, but not all of them supported him, and he has to win a majority of the full House of Representatives to get the gavel. He's faced a bloc of critics in his own party who insist they want somebody else. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has been following McCarthy's efforts. Good morning.
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, it's the day of the voting, and there's been discussions for some time. Does McCarthy have the votes?
WALSH: Right now he does not. As you said, he needs a majority of the full House. That means 218 votes or a majority of those who are present and voting on the House floor later today. Republicans will only hold a four-seat majority, and there are at least five members who say they don't support McCarthy. Unlike the internal secret ballot in November that McCarthy won inside the House Republican Conference, this vote is in public, and every member is called on to stand and say who they're going to back for speaker.
INSKEEP: And some of them have said in public in the last few days that they're not there. So what do the rebels want?
WALSH: There's been this group pushing to change some of the rules governing how the House actually operates. McCarthy has already agreed to a lot of these rules changes, including one rule that allows a group of just five members to offer a resolution to remove the speaker. McCarthy insisted for weeks he would not agree to this. It effectively weakens the power of the speaker. But it's clear he's under pressure to give in, since he has such a small margin, and it can't afford more than a few defections. But even after McCarthy gave in to some of the demands of these holdouts, a group of nine House Republicans circulated a letter on New Year's Day saying the changes represented some progress but were still insufficient. So the math problem for McCarthy appears to just be getting more and more challenging.
INSKEEP: OK, so what happens if he doesn't get the votes this afternoon?
WALSH: It will be really embarrassing. At a time when Republicans want to be celebrating taking control of the House of Representatives, they're going to be dealing with the public scene of division and chaos. But the vote for speaker will just keep going. It's been a hundred years since it took multiple ballots to elect a speaker, but McCarthy's allies insist they won't vote for any alternative, and even if it's messy, they're going to stick with him. But it's also very important to stress - nothing else can happen in the House of Representatives until a speaker is elected. It's the only leadership position mentioned in the Constitution. Members can't even be sworn in to start the new session of Congress until a speaker is elected.
INSKEEP: OK, is there any alternative candidate?
WALSH: There've been some discussions about trying to rally around a consensus candidate, but McCarthy's allies have been pushing what they say is an O-K strategy - only Kevin. So if they stick with him, it could really drag the process out for hours and hours, maybe even days if McCarthy is unable to convince any of the holdouts to back him. McCarthy's No. 2, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, has publicly been backing McCarthy and predicting he will be elected speaker, but if the process drags out, GOP members could turn to Scalise or some other conservative candidate. Scalise, for his part, put out an agenda for the first two weeks of Congress, saying the House is going to vote on measures to cancel the boost in funding to hire more IRS agents, bills dealing with border security and abortion. But until the speaker is elected, House committees can't form, and the rest of business is totally stalled out.
INSKEEP: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. We'll be listening for your reporting as things go forward. Thanks.
WALSH: Thanks, Steve.
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