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McCarthy fails to secure the 218 votes needed to become speaker of the House

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

For the first time in a century, the U.S. House began a congressional term without a speaker.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

More than 90% of House Republicans have favored Kevin McCarthy for that job. The California lawmaker has worked toward his turn for years, but a few lawmakers rebelled enough to cause the clerk to say this three times yesterday.

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CHERYL JOHNSON: No persons having received a majority of the whole number of votes cast by surname, a speaker has not been elected.

INSKEEP: McCarthy did not even receive as many votes as Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader who received around 203.

SCHMITZ: He'll try again today, with the outcome no more certain than yesterday. NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now.

Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey there.

SCHMITZ: Republicans adjourned the House after McCarthy lost their third ballot. What happens now?

GRISALES: The chamber is set to convene at noon today for more votes, but Republicans met overnight to try to hash out a way forward. But just like yesterday, there seems to be still plenty of division and little room for error. McCarthy can lose only four members of his conference, assuming everyone is there to win the speakership. And he's lost much more than that. And his opposition seems to be growing. Some McCarthy supporters, such as Texas Representative Pete Sessions, said these losing rounds for McCarthy cannot go on forever.

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PETE SESSIONS: Even though both sides are dug in, trust me, I think somebody's going to have to say, this is starting to look bad. I mean, the good of the party, the good of the majority is what we should be about.

GRISALES: And we should note, no business in the House can move forward, no members can be sworn in until a speaker is elected.

SCHMITZ: Wow. So what's keeping that from happening?

GRISALES: Although most Republicans support McCarthy, a conservative fringe as oppose him for years, and it even cost him an earlier speakership bid. And it seems they will not change their mind or their votes. McCarthy had already threatened to go multiple ballots, if needed, but that seems to be having the opposite effect now. He lost 19 defectors in the first round. And by the last, that number grew to 20, with Florida Republican Byron Daniels (ph). These defectors voted for Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan instead. McCarthy has been defiant about this lack of needed support, telling reporters his defectors will eventually fold, and this fight is not about him.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: This isn't about me. This is about the conference now, 'cause the members who are holding out is what they want something for their personal selves. If anybody wants to earn something - committee slots or others - you go to the conference. You don't get it by leveraging here.

GRISALES: So he's saying these defectors who've asked for more concessions for House rules, for example, to be adjusted, that they can't negotiate this way on the floor, and he thinks members will tire out over these ballots and give him the win. But it may not be a winning argument. Scott Perry, one of these defectors, said McCarthy's trying to order them into voting for him by threatening to take away committee assignments. And Perry said he does not take orders from anyone.

SCHMITZ: So what's going to happen today?

GRISALES: We'll see if there's a deal that - some sort of breakthrough here with these negotiations. Ken Buck of Colorado, who voted for McCarthy, said it's worth keeping an eye now on the more senior members of the party to see if they start to pool their support.

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KEN BUCK: You know who the cardinals are. You know who the chairs are. You know who - the people that have been here 12, 14 years. When those folks decide that it's been long enough and we don't have any white smoke, they're going to start looking elsewhere.

GRISALES: He thinks some have already told McCarthy they'll hang with him for a few more rounds, but eventually that welcome mat will be taken away.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales.

Claudia, thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.