McCarthy fails in three votes for U.S. House speaker

STORY: Hardline conservatives rebelled against Republican Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, blocking his bid to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in three consecutive votes, leaving the new Republican majority in turmoil.

It's an embarrassing beginning to what could prove to be a brutal showdown between hardliners and the overwhelming majority of House Republicans.

McCarthy fell short of the 218-vote majority needed to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker in each of three votes. It was the first time in a century that the House failed to elect a speaker on the first vote.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries outran McCarthy in all three rounds, with 212 votes.

McCarthy showed no sign of withdrawing from the contest after the second ballot. He had served as the House minority leader and sought to become speaker, a position second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency, only to draw strong opposition from his party's right flank.

McCarthy's hardline opponents are concerned that he is less deeply invested in the culture wars and partisan rivalries that have dominated the House - and even more so since Trump's White House years.

Ahead of the votes, lawmaker Matt Gaetz vowed to block McCarthy's bid for speaker.

"We offered Kevin McCarthy terms last evening that he rejected. We sought a vote in the first quarter of 118th Congress on term limits. He refused. We wanted a budget from the Republican Study Committee that balances on the floor in the first quarter. He refused. We wanted the border plan that the Texas delegation put together on the floor. He refused, and it is true that we struggle with trust with Mr. McCarthy."

McCarthy countered that the holdouts were pushing personal agendas.

"Matt Gaetz said I don't care if we go to a plurality and we elect Hakim Jeffries and it hurts the new front-line members not to get reelected. Well, that is not about America. And I will always fight to put the American people first, not a few individuals who want something for themselves. So, we may have a battle on the floor. But the battle is for the conference and for the country and that's fine with me."

A protracted speaker election could undermine House Republican hopes of moving forward quickly on priorities including investigations of President Joe Biden's administration and family, as well as legislative priorities involving the economy, U.S. energy independence and border security.

A standoff would leave the House largely paralyzed and could force lawmakers to consider another candidate. Trump ally and co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus Jim Jordan was put forward by Matt Gaetz, and earned 20 votes in Tuesday's final round.

Republicans won a narrow 222-212 majority in November's midterm election, meaning that McCarthy - or any candidate for speaker - will need to unify a fractious caucus to win the gavel. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate.