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Deadlock deepens in US House speaker showdown

Political turmoil as deadlock deepens over US House speaker
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The US House of Representatives had to adjourn until Thursday as bitter infighting within the Republican ranks continues to paralyze the chamber and prevent the election of a new speaker.

Conservative hardliners have spurned former president Donald Trump’s pick Kevin McCarthy, who they accuse of being too moderate, making the 2023 speakership race the first in a century to require multiple rounds of voting.

Despite six ballots over two days, McCarthy has failed to secure the 218 votes needed for the speakership, the third most powerful role in US politics after the presidency and vice presidency.

Without a speaker, the chamber is unable to swear in members, start filling committees, tackle legislation or open any of the investigations they have promised into President Joe Biden.

Unable to break the stalemate, the House abruptly adjourned until noon on Thursday, allowing Republicans a few precious hours to regroup and settle on a new strategy before going back into the fray.

Roughly 20 Republicans have blocked the California congressman’s path to the gavel until he capitulates to their agenda, leaving the party unable to capitalize so far on the slim majority it secured in November’s mid-term elections.

McCarthy, a member of the Republican leadership for more than a decade, has already agreed to many of the group’s demands, but opposition to his candidacy from within his own party has only seemed to harden.

Americans “want a new face, new vision, new leadership,” Texas Congressman Chip Roy said from the floor Wednesday.

Biden called the Republican failure to elect a speaker “embarrassing for the country,” and said the “rest of the world” was closely watching.

– ‘Embarrassing defeat’ –

McCarthy’s supporters have grown increasingly frustrated by the political standoff, especially as no credible competitor has emerged.

Two McCarthy loyalists — incoming House majority leader Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, a darling of the right — look like the most viable alternatives.

McCarthy — who has raised millions of dollars to elect right-wing lawmakers — dragged his party back to a 222-212 House majority in last year’s mid-terms after four years in the wilderness.

The 57-year-old former entrepreneur has long coveted the opportunity to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who held the gavel in the last Congress.

But McCarthy’s speaker bid has opened a troubling rift within the House Republicans, with centrists referring to the hard-right faction leading the charge against him as the “Taliban 20.”

The standoff sparked frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations as McCarthy’s allies sought to cut a deal with his conservative detractors that could also win the approval of moderates.

US media reported that the rival sides were in talks about setting up a “negotiating group” to hash out their differences.

McCarthy meanwhile told reporters he planned to stay in the race and had spoken to his biggest backer, Trump.

The former president has warned the renegade Republicans not to “turn a great triumph into a giant and embarrassing defeat.”

But his comments have not moved the needle on the House floor and were dismissed by normally staunch Trump ally Lauren Boebert, who said her “favorite president” had things backwards.

“The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,” she said.

– ‘A desperate guy’ –

No House business can take place without a speaker, meaning lawmakers-elect have to continue voting until someone wins a majority.

Should McCarthy, who has lost every round so far to Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, ultimately decide to pull out, the two parties are likely to start casting around for a “unity” candidate willing to work across the aisle.

Some of McCarthy’s detractors have taken issue with specific political positions, but others have just indicated a broad distaste.

“Every single Republican in Congress knows that Kevin does not actually believe anything. He has no ideology,” Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz recently wrote of McCarthy.

A former delicatessen owner, McCarthy has already given away the store to his conservative opponents, agreeing to changes in the way the House does business, to stop opposing far-right candidates in open primaries and to lower the threshold of support needed to oust a speaker.

But not one of them has shown signs of wavering so far.

Boebert and Gaetz held talks with McCarthy after a brief early evening adjournment but Gaetz told reporters afterwards that the would-be speaker was “a desperate guy whose vote share is dropping,” while Boebert predicted “increased opposition coming Kevin’s way.”


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French state-owned international news agency based in Paris. It is the world's oldest news agency, having been founded in 1835 as Havas.

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