US

Kevin McCarthy loses 14th US Speaker vote after tense exchange in Congress

Republican Kevin McCarthy has narrowly lost the fourteenth vote to become Speaker of the US House of Representatives after a tense exchange in Congress.

The House decided to hold a 15th vote immediately after, instead of adjourning for the night.

Mr McCarthy’s party had taken control of the House – the US lower chamber – following the midterm elections in the autumn, with a slim 222-212 majority.

Usually, election of the Speaker follows seamlessly, as a formality, with the leader of the largest party a shoo-in for the job.

However, recent splits in the Republican partymeant that did not happen – and led to the first defeat of a nominee in a century.

In the 14th ballot, Mr McCarthy received 216 votes – one shy of the number needed for a victory – as a small faction of right-wing hardliners held out.

This was despite his promise of spending cuts and other concessions that had won over many of their colleagues.

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Even after two key Republican holdouts voted present to lower the tally he would need, it was not enough.

‘Stay civil’

During a tense exchange, Mr McCarthy was seen walking to the back of the chamber to confront Rep. Matt Gaetz, who did not vote for him.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during the 14th round of voting for speaker in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (L) talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz. Pic: AP

A hostile back and forth ensued, while a number of Republican lawmakers began to crowd them.

Rep. Mike Rogers appeared to lunge in the direction of where Mr Gaetz was sitting, but was held back by other members.

Members of the House of Representatives get physical with each other as Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) pushes back Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) away from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and members of the House Freedom Caucus including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) after Gaetz voted "present" rather than voting for McCarthy in a late night 14th round of voting for a new House Speaker on the fourth day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2023. REUTERS

“Stay civil,” someone was heard shouting.

Rep. Richard Hudson was also seen grabbing Mr Rogers around the mouth, but it was unclear what the argument was about.

A member of the House of Representatives grabs Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) by the face after Rogers approached Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and members of the House Freedom Caucus after Gaetz voted "present" rather than voting for McCarthy in a late night 14th round of voting for a new House Speaker on the fourth day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2023. REUTERS/Jon Cherry TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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A member of the House of Representatives grabs Rep. Mike Rogers by the face after Rogers approached Rep. Matt Gaetz

Highest number of speaker ballots since 1859

A handful of far-right Republicans have felt Mr McCarthy is not conservative enough for the job, despite him agreeing to many of the detractors’ demands.

One of the most difficult requests that Mr McCarthy has agreed to is the reinstatement of a longstanding House rule that would allow any single member to call a vote to oust him from office.

The Speaker is one of the most powerful positions in US politics and without one, Congress cannot function.

This week’s failed votes marked the highest number of ballots for the speakership since 1859.

Sessions to decide on the person for the job had rumbled on for hours in the chamber this week – one even topping eight hours.

The stalemate has raised questions about the Republicans’ ability to govern over the coming two years.

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