Kevin McCarthy wins House speakership on 15th vote

Washington DC - Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the US House early Saturday morning after four days and 15 ballots, resuscitating a chamber that had been paralyzed as it endured the longest struggle to elect a leader since the Civil War.

US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy celebrates being elected the next Speaker of the House in a late-night 15th round of voting during the fourth session of the 118th Congress.
US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy celebrates being elected the next Speaker of the House in a late-night 15th round of voting during the fourth session of the 118th Congress.  © REUTERS

McCarthy’s long-delayed triumph marks the high point of a congressional career he began as a staffer for former Rep. Bill Thomas more than three decades ago.

But the Republican leader’s victory came at a price. In order to secure the votes required to succeed his fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi as speaker, McCarthy had to agree to a series of compromises that dramatically weaken the power of the post.

The deals McCarthy struck with a group of fewer than two-dozen hard-line Republicans will empower the far right of his party ahead of a congressional term that promises contentious battles over funding the federal government and increasing the debt ceiling.

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Before finally securing the gavel, McCarthy lost his 14th ballot for speaker Friday evening in the most dramatic fashion possible, falling a single vote shy of the outright majority he needed.

After Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Matt Gaetz of Florida voted "present," McCarthy tallied 216 of 432 votes. Gaetz, who missed his name when it was first called, became the decisive vote to determine whether McCarthy would become speaker or continue his historic losing streak.

McCarthy and other Republicans approached Gaetz after his vote, seemingly pleading with him to change it and end the speakership saga. But Gaetz remained unmoved, and the vote closed without electing a speaker. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama was restrained by a colleague after approaching Gaetz.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tried to hand Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana her cell phone: Former President Donald Trump was calling. But Rosendale waved her off.

McCarthy makes big concessions to far-right Republicans

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz enters the House chamber before voting "present" rather than voting for Kevin McCarthy during the 14th round of voting.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz enters the House chamber before voting "present" rather than voting for Kevin McCarthy during the 14th round of voting.  © REUTERS

House Republicans had moved to adjourn until Monday afternoon after the stunning defeat, but ultimately opposed their own motion and chanted for "one more vote" after McCarthy and Gaetz reportedly struck a deal.

The nature of McCarthy’s final bargain was not immediately apparent. But the rules package House Republicans hope to pass soon will reportedly allow a single member to force a vote to oust the speaker.

The far right also won seats on the powerful Rules Committee for members of the House Freedom Caucus and their allies. The panel, which controls how debates are conducted and bills advance in the House, is traditionally filled with allies of the speaker.

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The newly minted speaker will soon begin swearing in members of Congress, but the next test of whether House Republicans are finally united will come after a debate on the rules package.

"I am a NO on the house rules package," Tony Gonzales, a Republican of Texas, tweeted. "Welcome to the 118th Congress."

McCarthy secures speakership after 15 ballots

Kevin McCarthy wields the Speaker's gavel after the 15th vote.
Kevin McCarthy wields the Speaker's gavel after the 15th vote.  © REUTERS

McCarthy’s victory came on the 15th speaker ballot. The chamber had moved to adjourn Friday afternoon until 10:00 PM to allow two McCarthy supporters to return to Washington to get him over the top. McCarthy had flipped 15 votes his way earlier Friday – nearly enough to clinch the speaker’s gavel on the 13th ballot.

The pause in the action allowed Colorado Rep. Ken Buck and Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt, who had missed the 12th and 13th votes, to return to the Capitol, increasing McCarthy’s vote total from 214 to 216.

The House has 435 seats, with one currently vacant. If every member voted, McCarthy needed to win 218 votes to secure a majority and the speakership – unless at least three members voted "present," lowering the threshold.

Friday’s break gave McCarthy and his allies more time to flip two of the remaining six Republican holdouts and hit that magic number.

"Over these last few days, Kevin McCarthy has allowed this process to work among House Republicans, and he’s empowered members to come together to find consensus on behalf of conservative policy and a greater involvement of all voices throughout our conference. We’ve all played a part," Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said in his nominating speech Friday evening. "He’s relentless. The man does not quit."

McCarthy slowly began winning over hard-line Republicans

The newly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy hugs House Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries after being handed the Speaker's gavel.
The newly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy hugs House Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries after being handed the Speaker's gavel.  © REUTERS

McCarthy’s vote total had fallen as low as 200 on Thursday. But Republicans began to move in his direction Friday afternoon, and each flip was met with raucous applause from the GOP side of the aisle.

On the second anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, the GOP-controlled House remained far from under control until the very end.

Only four other Congresses required more roll call votes for speaker before a winner emerged.

Committee chairs will be able to launch investigations and hold hearings once rules are adopted, and legislation will be able to begin moving. Members will also regain access to national security intelligence and be able to begin helping constituents.

Six conservative Republicans had positioned themselves for months as a hard "no." Some in the group sent fundraising emails this week highlighting their opposition to McCarthy. They stayed true to their word, refusing to vote for McCarthy, but ultimately cleared the way for him by voting "present."

Until Friday, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York had led every ballot with 212 votes, a show of unity among House Democrats. On the 12th ballot, McCarthy finally surpassed Jeffries, notching 213 to Jeffries’ 211.

McCarthy maintained a lead on the 13th ballot. But the House remained in a state of paralysis until McCarthy was elected, continuing its historic streak of votes for speaker.

"You only earn the position of speaker of the House if you can get the votes," Gaetz said on the floor earlier Friday. "Mr. McCarthy doesn’t have the votes today. He will not have the votes tomorrow, and he will not have them next week, next month, next year."

Hours later, McCarthy was elected speaker.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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