Kevin McCarthy secures speakership after historic ground fight

Kevin McCarthy secures speakership after historic ground fight

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He got the gavel.

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) became the 55th speaker of the House of Representatives The midnight hour on Saturday ended a historic four-day, 15-ballot standoff caused by a group of 20 Conservative members — fulfilling the California Republican’s long-standing goal.

The final vote on the 15th ballot was 216 for McCarthy, 212 for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), and six votes present. With the votes in hand, he needed 215 votes to win.

McCarthy’s securing of the speakership came after a dramatic scene on the House floor in the 14th ballot with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) cast the casting vote so McCarthy was just one vote short of the gavel.

After the vote, the deputies crowded around Gaetz in intensive discussions. At one point, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) angrily approached the group, and Rep. Richard Hudson (RN.C.) physically pulled Rogers back.

Republicans wanted to adjourn until Monday — until Gaetz approached McCarthy and asked for another vote. On that ballot, all of the remaining objectors turned to vote present in order that he would win.

It’s a big win for McCarthy. There were points where many outside observers – and even privately some of his GOP supporters at home – didn’t believe he was going to pull it off.

He proved them wrong.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (RN.C.), a longtime friend of McCarthy, said in one of the closing nomination speeches that he had “a front row seat as he’s grown as a leader — and especially this week as he’s grown.” is a leader.”

“He’s relentless. The man isn’t giving up,” McHenry said of McCarthy.

Before McCarthy became a speaker, however, he had to listen.

As early as July, hardliners in the conservative House Freedom Caucus had begun making calls for house rules to be changed in order to weaken the leadership’s power; increasing the number of right flank members in key positions; stay out of open Republican primary; and take a more aggressive stance toward the Biden administration, Democrats, and the Senate.

The midterm election proved disappointing for Republicans, earning them a far smaller majority than McCarthy had long predicted. That put pressure on the hardliners. Five major critics signaled early on that they would not vote for McCarthy, while several others withheld their support as they pushed for rule changes and commitments. For some of these holdouts, the opposition seemed personal.

Compromises offered over the New Year’s weekend did not appease them, and posing by McCarthy supporters to pass by vote after vote did not sway them.

The Speaker race seemed headed for a repeat of history. Objections from members of the House Freedom Caucus had forced McCarthy to withdraw from his first candidacy for Speaker in 2015 when he ran to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

McCarthy wouldn’t let that happen again. He vowed never to bow out of the race, steadfast even after days of multiple failed elections.

The GOP leader and his allies — including McHenry, Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) — worked furiously to reach a deal with the critics when McCarthy, on the ninth, tenth and eleventh ballots failed on the floor. Negotiations with holdouts such as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) continued late Thursday night.

He gave them what they wanted – or at least most of it.

Concessions include lowering the threshold to force a vote on ousting the speaker to just one member; Creation of a select sub-committee on “Arming the Federal Government”; and agreeing to hold a vote on term limits. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-affiliated PAC, also agreed not to spend money on open primary elections in safe Republican counties.

When the House returned Friday midday, McCarthy showed his momentum, flipping a total of 14 of the critics to back him on the 12th and 13th ballots.

Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and freshman Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), who were absent earlier in the day, rushed back to Washington for the final vote to help McCarthy cross the finish line. Buck was away for a medical procedure and Hunt had returned to Texas to be with his premature son and wife, who suffered non-life-threatening complications that took them to the hospital.

The protracted speakership fight will go down in history as the fifth longest by number of ballots and the longest single fight since before the Civil War. It is the first time since 1923 that the election of the Speaker has been carried out in multiple ballots.

“I think in the last few months and in the last few years, [McCarthy] showed how he will do it [manage the conference]said Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), McCarthy supporter. “He brings people together. He is able to unite people who would not be believed to be united.”

But McCarthy will likely have more challenges ahead as he manages a wide range of ideologies with weakened power.

Before the final speaker vote, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said he would vote against the House Rules package. His stance points to a possible dysfunction in Congress even after it has elected a speaker.

“I’m a NO to the house rules package. Welcome to the 118th Congress,” he tweeted Friday night.

Other Republicans were quietly frustrated that McCarthy was bowing so much to the will of his critics rather than swing district members who handed him the majority, multiple sources said.

The date he secured the gavel marked two years since another defining moment for McCarthy: the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

That day, McCarthy was yelling at former President Donald Trump on the phone as rioters entered the building. Later that night, he voted against confirming Pennsylvania’s election results. He later said Trump was responsible for the attack. He then helped rehabilitate Trump’s stature in the GOP by meeting with him in Mar-a-Lago before the end of the month.

In his bid for the speakership, Trump endorsed the GOP leader and urged those who hold out to stand up for McCarthy.

A massive fundraiser and accomplished campaign tactician, McCarthy has long demonstrated a willingness to bow to the political winds. In his memoir, Boehner recalled that McCarthy — as House majority leader in 2013 — voted with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor against a “fiscal cliff” tax deal he lashed out to ensure that it came about. He could see the growing anti-government tea party sentiment in his party.

As a minority leader, McCarthy uplifted and empowered members of the right flank who helped push Boener to step down from speakership. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who once ran against McCarthy to lead the House Republicans, will chair the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who previously expressed doubts about McCarthy’s ability to become speaker, became one of his strongest supporters in his hammer fight.

In October McCarthy said Punchbowl News that if he did not win the speakership, “it was not God’s plan for me to be speaker.”

McCarthy may have had an answer to his prayers — just not in the way he probably imagined.

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