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The vote for House speaker will extend to a 2nd day — as will McCarthy's fight to win

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Right before the House of Representatives opened its new session today, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy admitted he had a fight on his hands to be elected the new speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: So we may have a battle on the floor, but the battle is for the conference and the country, and that's fine with me.

KELLY: That battle will continue into a second day. For the first time in 100 years, the vote to elect a House speaker has gone to multiple ballots. Well, NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us from the Capitol. She's been in the chamber all day. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So where do things stand? They have finished voting. They've adjourned, and we don't have a speaker?

WALSH: That's right. After three ballots without a winner, House leaders decided to adjourn, and they're going to be back at it at noon tomorrow. But it's still unclear when Republicans or if Republicans will be able to unite around McCarthy or an alternative. As you said, I was inside the chamber for most of the proceedings. And as the vote dragged on, there were members - a lot of them who brought their kids or grandkids - who were kind of growing weary because nothing was changing. On the first ballot, 19 House Republicans voted against McCarthy. On the second, McCarthy again failed to get a majority and had 19 Republicans vote for Jim Jordan instead of him. Jordan from Ohio is backing Kevin McCarthy. On the third ballot, McCarthy actually lost another vote and had 20 members voting against him. So at that point, leaders decided they needed a reset. And now there's a bunch of meetings happening behind the scenes in the Capitol.

KELLY: Sure. OK. And they're going to try to come back tomorrow, and we'll see what happens then. But what is it that people opposing Kevin McCarthy want?

WALSH: They've been saying they want to change the way the House operates, and they don't have any confidence that Kevin McCarthy is the person who can do that. Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry is one of those critics. He said he brought a list of demands to McCarthy that was rejected this morning at a House Republican meeting. He said that committee chairs actually threatened to remove lawmakers from committees if they didn't vote for McCarthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT PERRY: We literally had people in there telling us to take orders. And I can only speak for myself, but I suspect my colleagues here have the same sentiment - I don't take orders from anyone in this town. My orders come from my district and my constituents.

WALSH: McCarthy did actually agree to some changes, including one that allows just five members to sponsor a resolution that could remove a speaker, weakening him. But it wasn't enough, and the talks continue.

KELLY: Deirdre, you said it's not clear whether Republicans would be able to unite around McCarthy or an alternative. Is there an alternative - a Republican candidate who could win?

WALSH: At this point, it's hard to see how that's going to shake out. McCarthy told reporters he's staying in the race until he wins, and he insists his critics don't have a path to elect someone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCCARTHY: This isn't about me. This is about the conference now 'cause the members who are holding out is what - they want something for their personal selves.

WALSH: McCarthy's allies are also saying they would vote as many rounds as it takes to elect the speaker. Earlier today, one of his allies, Kelly Armstrong from North Dakota, described the group of McCarthy's opponents as willing to blame anyone but themselves for the division that's been on public display all day today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLY ARMSTRONG: There's a small group of members in our conference who have a unique and quite frankly enviable political position. They win when they lose. If they lose to the Democrats, they can blame the left. If they lose the Senate, they'll blame the swamp. If they lose to Republicans, they'll blame the establishment. And they'll continue down that path without ever actually having the responsibility of having to govern.

WALSH: For their part, Democrats are united backing Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries. But they're in the minority, and there's no indication any Democrat is going to cross party lines to help elect a Republican speaker.

KELLY: Well, so where does this leave us? What happens next? Where does the House go?

WALSH: The House keeps voting tomorrow. I mean, McCarthy's camped out in his office meeting with members tonight. But his challenge is he hasn't been able to flip any critics. You know, the trend was going in the opposite direction. There are some who say they could tire and possibly turn to McCarthy's No. 2, Steve Scalise, but he's been sticking with McCarthy.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh reporting from the Capitol all day today. Thank you, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.