Kevin McCarthy's bid for House speaker remains blocked by Republican holdouts

Party leader appears to make no progress in negotiations with rebellious conservatives

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Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was repeatedly thwarted by members of his own party on Thursday in his bid to become speaker of the US House Representatives, where he was rebuffed five more times in what has now become the most drawn-out process to elect a House speaker since 1859.

Mr McCarthy lost his eleventh vote in three days in a series of humiliating defeats dealt by a hardline group of Republicans who are demanding changes to the way the House operates.

The Republican rebels have instead voted for alternative options, including Byron Donalds and Kevin Hern.

One hardliner opposing Mr McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, twice voted for former president Donald Trump to be House speaker.

He made a formal nomination for the eleventh ballot but Mr Trump only received one vote.

“This ends in one of two ways: Either Kevin McCarthy withdraws from the race or we construct a straitjacket that he is unwilling to evade,” said Mr Gaetz.

Mr McCarthy’s successive losses marked a post-Civil War record for the number of ballots needed to select a speaker.

In 1923, Republican Frederick Gillett was elected to the post after nine ballots. The last multi-ballot speaker vote before that was in 1859, when 44 votes were needed.

Mr McCarthy made concessions on Wednesday night to appease the 20-member bloc, but the latest rounds of voting showed little progress has been made.

Mr McCarthy needs to secure 218 votes to be elected speaker if all 434 members of the House are present. With Republicans holding a slim majority of 222 seats after the US midterms, he can afford to lose only four votes.

“Is he going to fight for us? Is he willing to shut the government down?” Representative Ralph Norman told Reuters.

Some of the concessions Mr McCarthy offered included lowering the threshold to force a vote that would oust the House speaker.

He also reportedly offered to place some members of the House Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over how business in the chamber is conducted, Punchbowl News reported.

House Freedom Caucus members Scott Perry and Chip Roy appeared willing on Thursday morning to accept the concessions.

“I am open to whatever will give me the power to defend my constituents against this godforsaken city,” Mr Roy said.

Mr Perry told reporters the Republicans' discussions on Wednesday were “productive”.

But these concessions may not be enough.

In addition to Mr Norman, at least four other Republicans have stated their intention to never support Mr McCarthy for speaker.

“Mr McCarthy has a history that is off-putting to some people,” said Andy Biggs, a Republican who challenged Mr McCarthy for the party's leadership.

Unless Democrats join with their political foes in voting for Mr McCarthy, which appears unlikely, then conservative holdouts will continue to prolong the chamber's process to elect a speaker.

“All who serve in the House share a responsibility to bring dignity to this body,” said former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

President Joe Biden called the Republican stand-off “embarrassing”.

The House cannot operate until a speaker is elected because all 434 members need to be sworn in once one is chosen. This means that laws cannot be passed, legislative agendas cannot be set, committees cannot be established and oversight cannot be conducted.

It also delays Republicans' plans to set forth their legislative priorities and investigate Mr Biden's son and administration. Conservatives have long sought to investigate Hunter Biden, America's withdrawal from Afghanistan and migration at the US southern border.

In a statement released on Thursday, three incoming Republican committee chairmen in support of Mr McCarthy said “personal politics” should not delay the election of a speaker or put US security at risk.

“The Biden administration is going unchecked and there is no oversight of the White House, State Department, Department of Defence, or the intelligence community,” said Republicans Michael McCaul, Mike Turner and Mike Rogers.

But Mr Perry said the stalemate could drag on.

“It could go into the weekend. We hope it doesn't, but it could,” he said.

Agencies contributed to this report

What's happening with the US House speaker vote?

What's happening with the US House speaker vote?
Updated: January 06, 2023, 1:18 AM