Kevin McCarthy's face darkens almost every minute this Tuesday. In the third row of the plenary sits the man who has dreamed of becoming speaker of the House of Representatives for years. Name by name, all 434 MPs are called up alphabetically in order to cast their votes by acclamation. So this is an open vote. That makes these hours even more painful for McCarthy than they would be if there were a secret ballot.
One party friend after the other refused McCarthy's approval - and with it the longed-for position as the third most powerful person in America, after President and Vice President. Again and again Republican MPs call the names of Republican counting candidates into the hall. Everyone knows these enumerators, whether their names are Andy Biggs or Jim Jordan, have no chance of becoming Speaker of the House. This circumstance makes things even more uncomfortable for McCarthy. The message from MPs: against McCarthy. It is primarily right-wing Republicans, die-hard supporters of Donald Trump, who refuse to vote for McCarthy.
Kevin McCarthy nervously strokes his right knee with his left hand. Sometimes he scratches his cheek. Sometimes he smiles tensely – when once again a fellow party member doesn't call his name into the hall. It could hardly be more public: any member of the parliamentary group who refuses to agree to McCarthy verbally slaps him in the face. A public humiliation will be performed in the Washington Capitol this Tuesday afternoon. These are undignified hours for Kevin McCarthy, who has fought his way to the top with suppleness and a lack of profile.
How much had McCarthy not done to secure his longed-for election as speaker! After the mid-term elections, which were disappointing for the Republicans, he made himself scarce and sought out conversations with his fellow parliamentarians. He made concessions, for example to secure the yes of the right-wing conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene. She was actually promoting McCarthy in the basement of the Capitol on Tuesday morning. McCarthy didn't say a critical word publicly about the newly elected MP and imposter George Santos, who had pimped his entire CV (and those of his ancestors as well). Nothing helped.
In the first ballot, no fewer than 19 Republicans refused to vote for their fellow party speaker. He gets 203 votes and thus clearly misses the required majority of 218 votes. The house has 434 MPs. 222 of them are Republicans, 212 Democrats.
Bitter for McCarthy: While his own group, which he has led as chairman for years, is falling apart because of his person, the Democrats demonstrated amazing unity. The Democrats voted for their candidate Hakeem Jeffries, often with an enthusiastic tone of voice, and at times with very cheesy words of praise.
The Democrats cheer again and again, praising their candidate. The 52-year-old Jeffries has only been leading the minority Democratic faction for a few weeks. He is a newcomer, but he manages a respectable success that day, at least with the first ballot: the Democrat Jeffries, leader of the smaller faction, gets 212 votes. All Democrats voted for Jeffries.
He does better than McCarthy, leader of the majority faction. Barely has the ballot closed at 1:44 p.m. McCarthy leaves his brown leather chair. Smile, always smile, that's his motto. Unrest and nervousness in the ranks of the Republicans.
Good mood among the Democrats, who are actually holding their first meeting in the minority role here in four years. In terms of mood, there is nothing to feel. Hakeem Jeffries is congratulated by fellow faction members in a relaxed conversation.
No matter what happens next, Kevin McCarthy has already made a small historical entry in the history books: The US House of Representatives needed more than one ballot to get a speaker – that was last in 1923.