After a tense, day-long impasse ended when the GOP leader eventually consented to a series of concessions to his Republican opponents, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) received enough votes to become the next speaker of the House on Friday night.
On the fifteenth ballot, all of the GOP holdouts cast “present” ballots, reducing the bar just enough for McCarthy to win a majority. The vote came after a dramatic 14th ballot in which McCarthy lost when Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) was observed shooing Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) away as he appeared to be about to argue with Gaetz about his support.
In the end, the GOP leader garnered 216 votes against Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) 212, becoming the new minority leader.
It was difficult for the California Republican to become speaker because a number of conservatives withheld their backing until their demands for significant rule changes were granted. After falling far short on the first 13 rounds, several members questioned whether he could ever reach the finish line. But after coming to an agreement with the conservative hardliners and giving up to most of their demands, McCarthy was able to gain ground on the fourth day of voting, leaving his allies with just six “no” votes to turn around.
McCarthy and the majority of his detractors came to an agreement after days of negotiations to: allow one member to force a vote to remove a speaker; add more conservatives to coveted committees, such as the influential Rules Committee; cap discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels; create a “church”-style committee to look into the “weaponization” of the federal government; demand that raising the debt ceiling be accompanied by spending reductions; and ban McCarthy.
McCarthy had little room for mistake as the House Republicans failed to achieve their anticipated red wave in November.
He had a difficult assignment since, barring “present” votes from his detractors, he could only lose four votes to reach 218 following their internal conference vote on Nov. 15 when 36 GOP legislators opposed him.
Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), previous leader of the House Freedom Caucus, Bob Good (R-VA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) swiftly declared themselves to be “Never Kevin” members.
McCarthy was able to exclude them even though the group vowed to vote in unison and not cast a present vote to lower the bar.
The California Republican held talks with members who were hesitant to support him and forums on rule changes for weeks, compromising on a variety of subjects in the hopes of winning over defectors. He insisted he would take the fight to the floor until he won the votes while his opponents dug in.
In the end, his efforts were effective because pro-McCarthy senators worked until the very last minute to get the vote through late Friday night.
McCarthy also solicited the aid of politicians well-liked by the base, such incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, to make calls in an effort to win over conservatives (R-GA).
After suddenly withdrawing from the race to succeed former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) prior to the internal leadership elections in 2015 due to conservative opposition, McCarthy has long wanted the speaker’s gavel. Critics at the time questioned his personal life and attacked him for a mistake he made about the Benghazi committee.
McCarthy was initially chosen to serve as chief deputy whip in 2009, then elected to serve as whip in 2011, before becoming the House majority leader in 2014 and the minority leader in 2019. McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006 and rose quickly through the leadership ranks.
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