Rep. Hakeem Jeffries condemns Republicans for House speaker stalemate

“This is a dangerous moment for Americans and for the world,” said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

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On the third straight day of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives to select the speaker of the House for the 118th Congress, members are nowhere near close to a consensus on who will lead the lower chamber.

Republicans, who hold a current 222-212 majority in the House, have failed to coalesce around a nominee. U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who served as the Republican minority leader in the previous 117th Congress, had expected to assume the role of speaker. However, a small group of Republicans has repeatedly blocked McCarthy from the needed 218 votes to take up the gavel.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) scratches his head in the House Chamber during the third day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives is meeting to vote for the next Speaker after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on several ballots; the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

During each of the 11 rounds of voting this week, Democrats unanimously backed U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the current House minority leader. 

Jeffries told reporters on Wednesday at a weekly Democratic leader press conference that he hoped House Republicans would “stop the bickering, stop the backbiting and stop the backstabbing of each other so that we can have the back of the American people.”

He continued, ​​“Democrats are ready, willing and able to get to work on behalf of the American people, but we need a willing partner on the other side of the aisle.” 

In response to the marathon of voting on the House floor, U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., tells theGrio, “this is totally unacceptable.”

The frustration grows with each unsuccessful vote to produce a House speaker.

“Since members haven’t been sworn in yet, we can’t introduce bills and do the jobs the people elected us to do,” said Carson. 

During Thursday’s conference, Jeffries said this stalemate is posing a national security issue and “is a dangerous moment for Americans.” 

“One of the reasons why the Congress needs to organize? There are public health vulnerabilities,” he said.

He explained: “There are safety vulnerabilities that we should be working on together, dealing with the gun violence epidemic that exists here in the United States of America…these are real challenges that the American people are confronting that are being held hostage as a result of unfortunate Republican dysfunction.”

Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on January 5, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives will continue to try to elect the next Speaker after Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on six ballots over two days, the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

At the center of ensuring proper procedures for the vote are being performed in this unprecedented vote count is the House clerk, Cheryl Johnson. The 63-year-old is a longtime government employee who worked on Capitol Hill for nearly 20 years. She was sworn in as House clerk in the 117th Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, becoming only the second Black woman to serve in the role. 

Since the 118th Congress returned to session on Jan. 3, Johnson has assumed the role of presiding officer in the House chamber. Without a speaker, she is the sole leader of the House chamber. 

Congressman Jeffries spoke of Johnson’s service in this uncertain and historical moment. “I think Cheryl Johnson, one who’s a historic figure in her own right, is doing a very good job under difficult circumstances,” he told theGrio. 

While Democrats have strongly backed Jeffries for speaker – which is a longshot in a Republican-controlled House – defecting Republicans, refusing to support McCarthy, have backed Black Republican Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida

On Wednesday, after Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri blasted Donalds in a tweet, Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C.,  told members in the well of the House, “he ain’t no prop” to the applause of Republicans.

Bush and Donalds exchanged a war of words on Twitter, which ended in Bush accusing the Florida Republican of “working to overturn the 2020 election & embracing Trump MAGA fascism.”

“You’re being used. It helps you politically at the expense of our community. THAT’S what’s shameful,” tweeted Bush. 

Despite the intensity surrounding the issue of race on both sides of the aisle, there was a bit of levity on the House floor. On Wednesday, while nominating Donalds, Rep. Bishop said Democrats and Republicans had the opportunity to elect the first Black speaker of the House, clearly referring to Donalds. But Democrats quickly broke out in applause and jumped to their feet, chanting the name Hakeem. Republicans appeared stunned by Democrats flipping the narrative on the possibility of the first Black speaker of the House.

However, by Wednesday night anti-McCarthy Republicans had backed away from nominating Donalds. They instead nominated Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma.

Left to right: U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. (Photo: Getty Images)

Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., said no matter the “chaos” in selecting the next speaker of the House, Democrats will stay focused on the issues, particularly on voting rights and building on the bipartisan infrastructure law that is still being implemented across the country.

“Preserving our democracy is important to make sure that we can build upon the accomplishments that we did in [the 117th Congress],” Meeks told theGrio. “We got to make sure that they are able to participate and get involved and be able to create wealth for them and their families in our local communities and create these jobs and opportunities.”

TheGrio’s Ashlee Banks contributed to this report.

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