House Republicans are at a contentious stalemate over who will serve as the next speaker as Kevin McCarthy vows to continue his increasingly imperiled bid for the gavel. The fight, which began on the first day of the 118th Congress, has thrown the new House GOP majority into chaos and undercut the party’s agenda.

The House is set to convene at noon ET on Wednesday after holding three rounds of votes to elect a speaker on Tuesday. Each time, McCarthy came up short, failing to hit the majority threshold needed to secure the speakership. The House adjourned in the early evening after the vote series stretched on for hours with no resolution in sight.

Now, Republicans are scrambling to find a path forward. Talks continued Tuesday evening, with McCarthy in his office making calls, sources said. McCarthy’s allies say he’s not dropping out and is still prepared to grind this out.

As the votes stretched on Tuesday, the situation appeared to become even more dire for McCarthy, as the vote count in opposition to his speaker bid grew.

The tally for the first ballot in the speaker vote was 203 for McCarthy, with 19 Republicans voting for other candidates. The tally for the second ballot was 203 votes for McCarthy with 19 votes for GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. In the third round of voting, there were 202 votes for McCarthy and 20 votes for Jordan with Rep. Byron Donalds joining the 19 GOP lawmakers who had voted against McCarthy in the first two rounds.

Former President Donald Trump declined to issue a statement Monday reiterating his endorsement of McCarthy as House speaker, despite a behind the scenes effort from several of McCarthy’s allies to get Trump to do so, according to two sources familiar with what happened.

Trump has not rescinded his endorsement of McCarthy, and ultimately may not, but the former president is watching closely as the dynamic plays out on Capitol Hill. His silence as McCarthy faced three failed votes did not go unnoticed as Trump privately seemed to side with the hardliners against McCarthy in some conversations Tuesday, according to one of the sources. It’s important to note that Trump made calls on McCarthy’s behalf to those hardliners Monday.

McCarthy’s failure to lock down the needed votes so far has heightened uncertainty over whether he can win or if a viable candidate could emerge as an alternative. The last time an election for speaker went to multiple ballots was in 1923.

The obstacle for McCarthy is he faces a small but determined contingent of hardline conservatives who have so far been successful in denying him the votes to secure the gavel. The group has used the leverage they have in the razor-thin Republican majority to extract concessions. McCarthy has already given in to a number of their demands, including making it easier to topple the sitting speaker, but so far his effort have not been enough.

The deal-making McCarthy has engaged in to try to win over critics may mean he has a weaker hand to play in his position of authority if he does become speaker.

To be elected speaker, a candidate needs to win a majority of members who vote for a specific person on the House floor. That amounts to 218 votes if no member skips the vote or votes “present.” House Republicans hold 222 seats in the new Congress – so for McCarthy to reach 218, he would only be able to afford to lose four GOP votes.

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