Inside The Chamber As Kevin McCarthy Fell Short In His Bid For Speaker — And Lost Control Of The Plot (Analysis)

Following a tumultuous day in which Kevin McCarthy failed three times to muster up enough votes to lead the House of Representatives, one of the last members to leave the floor was the last speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

As she left the cloakroom with her husband Paul, she said that the day, a long, tense slog through the roll calls, “speaks for itself,” per the AP.

Democrats seemed to relish in watching the chaos on the other side of the chamber, as its members remained “in array,” united behind Hakeem Jeffries, Pelosi’s successor as Democratic leader. From the press gallery, it also looked like the Dems were having a much better time with the historic moment, too. 

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This being the first day of a new Congress, family members were allowed on the floor, as toddlers played in the aisles and infant sons and daughters became the focal point of small group huddles. There was even a moment of madcap levity, as when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) scrambled to the floor and began shouting “Jeffries, Jeffries,” having missed her roll call cue. 

By contrast, Republicans huddled in groups no larger than twos or threes, weary of the discord unfolding in their ranks. George Santos, the incoming New York Republican representative who has admitted fabricating key details of his background, largely sat alone in the back row. 

Much of this all played out in glimpses on C-SPAN and major cable news networks. The coverage started with the promise of cinematic-level suspense, a rare down-to-the-wire vote where the outcome wasn’t pre-ordained. But as the House slogged through the third roll call, it was apparent that no one had control of the plot, if there is a plot at all. 

At one point, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) called for members to rally around McCarthy, then the anti-McCarthy faction voted for Jordan as their speaker alternative, raising suspicions that it was a all an elaborate way for Jordan himself to emerge as the leader.

Never-Trump Republicans had warned that McCarthy’s speakership bid, and his willingness to make deep concessions to the far right as a path to power, would create scenarios that a screenwriter would feel was just a bit too outlandish. There were definite moments during the day when they were right, as when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tried to hold herself out as the voice of reason against the intractable holdouts. “I’m furious over it,” she told reporters. 

Inside the chamber, the proceedings had an odd mix of jubilation and frustration, as new members, their families in tow, prepared to be sworn in. Various receptions were at the ready for the moments they took their offices. But that never happened, as the 118th Congress can’t proceed without a speaker in place. McCarthy already has moved into Pelosi’s old office space, but workers have yet to install a nameplate. (Hours after taking to the floor to label McCarthy a sellout, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is now suggesting that he is a “squatter.”)

So where does this first act of the GOP controlled Congress leave off? As of Tuesday evening, there was little indication of an endgame.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) gave a TV interview to reiterate her opposition to McCarthy, a few yards away Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) dished with reporters over how unreasonable she and other holdouts were. “Our voters didn’t vote to have 19 people, now 20, derail the House in the first day,” he said, also noting that the anti-McCarthy faction was being dubbed the “chaos caucus” and that this moment had been brewing for some time. 

Just after the third and final vote of the day, there was a strange sense of calm in the Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House chamber, as members huddled by a fireplace and chatted and read the paper. 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) chatted with reporters about what a resolution would look like. 

“Now there’s a deep sense of animosity,” he said. “We’re going to have to come back from it, because in the end, you just got to do it. You just got to work together. We’ll see. We’re not there yet. I don’t know how that works. I don’t know what that feels like.” 

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