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What does House speaker vote mean for California?

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There’s more than pride at stake for California Republicans in the continuing drama over the next House of Representatives speaker.

“It will have a devastating impact on the California Republican Party and its infrastructure” if Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, isn’t speaker, said Mike Madrid, a California Republican political consultant.

“Kevin McCarthy is the last credible reason for donors to invest in the party in a significant way in a state where the GOP is essentially irrelevant,” Madrid said.

“His competence, his leadership, his ability to kind of put the right people in place as well as bring the funding goes away if he’s no longer the leader of the Republican conference, which is what would happen if he loses the speakership. The last last bit of lifeline that the California GOP has goes away.”

A fifth vote Wednesday, Jan. 4, failed to deliver the speaker’s gavel to McCarthy, who lost three votes in historic fashion Tuesday, Jan. 3, as a hardline group of 20 or so Republicans refused to back him in the narrowly divided House.

Not since 1923 has a speaker’s election gone to multiple ballots, and the longest and most grueling fight for the gavel started in late 1855 and dragged out for two months, with 133 ballots, during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with former president Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, want to upend business as usual in Washington, and were committed to stopping McCarthy’s rise without concessions to their priorities.

Tuesday marked the first time in 100 years that a nominee for House speaker could not take the gavel on the first vote, but McCarthy appeared undeterred. Instead, he vowed to fight to the finish, encouraged, he said, by Trump to end the disarray and pull the Republican Party together.

Democrats, who are poised to go from the majority to the minority when the new House is seated, refused to throw McCarthy a lifeline as they unified around New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

All of the 12 House Republicans representing the Golden State backed McCarthy, who was House minority leader in the last Congress.

In a Tuesday news release, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, reaffirmed his support for McCarthy and chided “a small number of holdouts (who) acted out … to prevent the new Republican majority from beginning its work.”

“It’s especially frustrating because these members continue to move the goalposts and are incapable of clearly stating their desired end result,” Calvert said. “They have no viable alternative.”

Rep. Young Kim, R-La Habra, echoed Calvert’s thoughts.

“The Republican conference overwhelmingly voted for Kevin McCarthy for speaker and he has the support of over 90% of our conference,” Kim said in an emailed statement. “But a few individuals are denying the conference election results, moving the goalposts and keeping us from delivering results for the American people.”

Kim added: “We can’t get anything done without a speaker. Enough with the games – it’s time to govern. We must show the American people we can deliver, and I will keep fighting for results.”

At least one California House Democrat openly mocked the GOP’s disarray.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, tweeted a photo of himself holding a bag of popcorn with the caption “About to go on the House floor.”

About to go to the House Floor. pic.twitter.com/81QVxmbHBb

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 3, 2023

If McCarthy fails to become speaker, it would likely mean the speaker — third in line to replace President Joe Biden if he were to abruptly leave office — would not hail from America’s most populous state. Vice President Kamala Harris is from the Bay Area.

It also would take the speaker’s gavel out of California for the first time since 2019, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, presided over a Democratic House majority.

A McCarthy loss would be another blow to a California GOP that nurtured former state governor and President Ronald Reagan’s political career. In recent decades, California Republicans have seen their power shrink to the point where the party holds no statewide offices, is a minority in the state legislature and makes up just 24% of California’s registered voters.

A McCarthy defeat also has implications for federal dollars coming to California, Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said via email.

“McCarthy’s absence from the speakership could make a difference when it comes to the funding of local projects,” Pitney said. “A speaker from California would be more likely to support California earmark requests than a speaker from another state.”

Staff Writer Hanna Kang and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

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