Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy was on track to lose a historic 11th round of voting in his bid to become Speaker of the House on Thursday night, after his efforts to offer fresh concessions to members of his own party fell on deaf ears and the impasse in Washington rolled on for a third day.
Despite last-ditch attempts by McCarthy to quell opposition and secure the votes he needs to be elected Speaker of the House, 20 Republicans repeatedly voted against him on Thursday, depriving him of the simple majority needed to clinch the Speaker’s gavel.
The enduring gridlock exposed long-simmering tensions in the Republican party and prompted questions about how lawmakers might be able to chart a path forward. McCarthy has so far resisted calls for him to step aside in favour of another Republican, and Democrats have demurred at suggestions that they might back McCarthy or work with Republicans to select a different Speaker.
At the same time, a majority of lawmakers opposed adjourning late on Thursday, setting the stage for the possibility of continued failed votes throughout the night.
The lower chamber of Congress is constitutionally required to select a Speaker and cannot move on to legislating until someone is handed the gavel.
McCarthy has made history with the relentless succession of votes, becoming the first candidate for Speaker to require more than one round of voting in 100 years. In 1923, nine rounds of voting were required.
Some of the rebels have personal grievances with McCarthy while others have demanded rule changes that would make it easier to oust the Speaker.
After months of negotiations, it appeared on Thursday as though McCarthy had capitulated to those demands, agreeing to change the rules so that just one member of the House could call a vote of no confidence. But the changes did little to move the dial and get him any closer to securing the 218 votes required to win a simple majority in the chamber.
Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections. But McCarthy finds himself in such a tough position because the “red wave” he predicted did not materialise and Republicans control the chamber by a razor-thin margin, leaving him beholden to a small number of rebels.
Late on Wednesday, the Club for Growth, the ultra-low-tax group, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-aligned fundraising vehicle, said they had struck a deal whereby the latter would not spend money in open Republican primaries in safe seats. The agreement was seen as a win for rightwing Republicans who have taken issue with McCarthy’s efforts to support more centrist candidates in the past.
McCarthy had received an apparent boost earlier on Wednesday when Donald Trump, the former US president, issued a full-throated endorsement of his candidacy, saying: “It’s now time for all our GREAT Republican House members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.”
But Trump’s push did little to sway the dissenters, in the latest signal that his influence over the party is waning. Lauren Boebert, one of the Republican rebels, called Trump her “favourite president” but said he should be urging McCarthy to withdraw.
Some of McCarthy’s allies have also quietly called for the California congressman to step aside in favour of a consensus candidate who could unite the party’s warring factions. Many members have publicly and privately suggested Steve Scalise, a congressman from Louisiana and McCarthy’s deputy, as an alternative.
At the same time, Democratic leaders have shown little willingness to help end the stalemate, despite suggestions that Democrats could band together with a group of Republicans to back an alternative Speaker candidate. Instead, Democrats have been united in voting in favour of Hakeem Jeffries, who took over as the party’s leader in the House after Nancy Pelosi said she would step down from leadership.