By Tom Ozimek
Former President Donald Trump has thrown his weight behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for House speaker ahead of a fourth round vote Wednesday after McCarthy failed to secure the top job in three rounds of voting on Tuesday but insisted he’s still a contender.
Hours after failing to clinch the House gavel amid GOP opposition, McCarthy said late Tuesday that he’s still in the running for speaker and insisted Trump had “reiterated his support” for his candidacy.
Trump, who after Tuesday’s failed vote was initially guarded in reiterating his endorsement, took to Truth Social later in the day to say he’s behind McCarthy all the way.
“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN” and “CLOSE THE DEAL.”
Trump, an influential figure in Republican circles whose endorsements were much coveted by GOP candidates ahead of the November midterms, urged Republicans not to turn a “GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT.”
Republicans managed to retake the House in the midterm election.
“Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB,” Trump added.
Records show that there have been 14 instances of speaker elections that needed multiple ballots, with the last time that two or more votes were needed occurring back in 1923.
Tuesday’s drama on Capitol Hill saw the House adjourn without a speaker after three rounds of voting in which McCarthy fell 15 votes short of the 218 he needed to clinch the top House job.
That vote capped a frenzied two days of back-room bargaining and media posturing by McCarthy and his supporters and a small group of dissident populist conservatives who pushed for—and won—a number of reform concessions, but still voted no.
It was the first time in 100 years that a nominee for House speaker could not take the gavel on the first or second vote.
Still, despite the speaker election having to go to a fourth round on Wednesday, McCarthy appeared undeterred.
Instead, McCarthy vowed to fight to the finish, saying he was encouraged by Trump to end the intra-party squabbling and pull the GOP together.
“Trump has already reiterated his support. I talked to him tonight,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill after emerging from a closed-door meeting with his supporters.
The former president “wants to see the Republicans united to be able to accomplish the exact things we said we’d do,” McCarthy continued.
Asked if he would drop out, McCarthy insisted: “It’s not going to happen.”
‘We’ll See What Happens’
McCarthy’s remarks came after Trump was asked earlier that day in an interview with NBC News whether he continued to stand by his endorsement of McCarthy after he failed to secure the gavel in three rounds of voting and the House adjourned without a speaker.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told the outlet in a phone interview. “We’ll see how it all works out.”
Trump’s subsequent statement on Truth Social makes clear that, after first securing the former president’s endorsement for speaker in November, McCarthy remains Trump’s top pick.
The former president endorsed McCarthy for speaker ahead of the November midterm election and later in December encouraged Republicans to rally behind the California Republican, warning in an interview with Breitbart that McCarthy’s opponents were “playing a very dangerous game.”
“Now, I’m friendly with a lot of those people who are against Kevin. I think almost every one of them are very much inclined toward Trump, and me toward them,” Trump said. “But I have to tell them, and I have told them, you’re playing a very dangerous game.”
A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, have emerged as a challenge to business as usual in Washington.
So far, they’ve appeared committed to stopping McCarthy’s rise unless they win concessions to their priorities.
“Kevin McCarthy is not going to be a speaker,” declared Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the holdouts.
The longest and most grueling fight for the gavel started in December 1855, dragging out for two months and requiring 133 ballots before Nathaniel Banks was declared House speaker.
The House is scheduled to convene Wednesday after the stalemate essentially forced all other business to halt.
Without a speaker, the House cannot fully form and do things like swearing in members, naming committee chairmen, engaging in floor proceedings, and launching investigations of the Biden administration.
“Today, is that the day I wanted to have? No,” McCarthy told reporters late Tuesday at the Capitol.
McCarthy won no more than 203 votes in three rounds of voting, losing 19 Republicans from his slim 222-seat majority.
All 19 Republicans who did not vote for McCarthy in the first round voted for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in the second round.
A third round saw Jordan receive the same 19 votes, as well as an additional vote from Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.).
Path to McCarthy Win
With House Republicans slated to open the second day of the new Congress much like the first—with McCarthy trying to become House speaker—it’s not clear how the embattled GOP leader can win over right-flank conservatives who are opposed to his leadership.
The conservative Freedom Caucus led the opposition to McCarthy, believing he’s neither conservative enough nor tough enough to take on Democrats.
McCarthy has already agreed to many of the demands of the Freedom Caucus, who have been pushing for rules changes and other concessions that give rank-and-file more influence in the legislative process.
While it typically takes 218 votes—a majority of the House—to become speaker, that threshold can be reduced if members are absent or merely vote present.
If McCarthy could win 213 votes, and then persuade the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the threshold required under the rules to clinch the majority.
It’s a strategy that several former House speakers, including outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), used when confronting opposition but then winning the gavel with fewer than 218 votes.
“You get 213 votes, and the others don’t say another name, that’s how you can win,” McCarthy said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Mark Tapscott, Madalina Vasiliu, Zachary Stieber, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.