Republicans in the House of Representatives have backed Kevin McCarthy to be their nominee for speaker by a margin of 188 to 31, as they remained on the verge of winning a narrow majority of seats in the lower chamber of Congress after the US midterm elections.
The dissent from 31 House Republicans to McCarthy’s selection as speaker could spell trouble for the California lawmaker, since he won’t be able to afford nearly as many defections when the full House votes to formally elect the new speaker in early January. At that point, he will need 218 votes and the support of virtually every Republican in the House.
The vote by secret ballot on Tuesday came as the Republican party has been engulfed in hand-wringing and internal divisions after a weaker than expected performance in last week’s midterm elections. Republicans failed to regain control of the Senate from Democrats while they struggled to secure the widespread gains they were counting on in the House and are only likely to regain the majority by a handful of seats.
“The American people want us to turn a page. They do not want excuses or performance art, they want action and results,” Andy Biggs, the Republican lawmaker from Arizona who was challenging McCarthy, wrote on Twitter before the vote.
The split among Republicans has opened up because allies of former president Donald Trump, who is poised to announce a new presidential run on Tuesday night, are blaming party leaders for the poor showing of many of their preferred candidates in the midterms.
On the other hand, many Republicans have accused Trump of sabotaging their party’s political appeal by backing extremist election-denying candidates and campaigning aggressively for them in the final stages of the campaign, leading to a backlash among moderate and independent voters.
Those divisions have also flared up in the Senate, where a number of Republicans, such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have called for a delay in their leadership election on Wednesday to give a new term to Mitch McConnell, the veteran senator from Kentucky.
“Personally, I think it is insane, it would be nuts for us to have leadership elections now and simply re-elect the exact same leadership,” Cruz told Fox Business on Tuesday.
Rick Scott, the Republican senator from Florida, has signalled that he wants to replace McConnell.