The victory marks the pinnacle of the California Republican’s time in Congress since he arrived in 2007.
Kevin McCarthy will be speaker of the House after eking out a majority on the 15th ballot, ending a grueling four days of GOP infighting that left the country without a functioning chamber of the legislative branch.
The vote, which concluded early Saturday morning, marks the completion of a comeback for the California Republican, who’s risen throughout his party’s House leadership for more than a decade. Yet his victory also illuminated the frailty of his leadership mandate, as McCarthy was forced throughout four days of voting to make significant concessions to his right flank that will make him constantly vulnerable to challenge.
“Look, the president has called this process an embarrassment, talking heads have labeled this chaos and a mess, and some would call it shambolic even, but it’s called democracy,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said as he nominated McCarthy on the House floor. “We know it’s messy. We know it’s messy, but open and transparent debate is what sets us apart from authoritarian regimes.”
McCarthy ultimately prevailed with 216 votes after six conservatives switched their votes to present, reversing their previous opposition to his nomination. That followed 14 other holdout Republicans flipping their votes to McCarthy during the 12th ballot and another, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), switching to McCarthy on the 13th one.
Speaking after his victory, McCarthy nodded to his lengthy battle for the gavel in a remark directed at House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.): “Hakeem, I got to warn you, two years ago I got 100 percent of the vote from my conference.” He added to Jeffries: “Our debates will be passionate. They will never be personal.”
Jeffries ran rhythmically through the alphabet as he prepared to hand over the gavel to McCarthy to a mix of boos and cheers from different sides of the chamber.
“Freedom over fascism. Governing over gaslighting. Hopefulness over hatred. Inclusion over isolation. Justice over judicial overreach. Knowledge over kangaroo courts. Liberty over limitation, Maturity over Mar-a-Lago,” he said on the floor.
It followed a tense and chaotic floor scene as McCarthy lost the 14th ballot for speaker with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) having to be pulled away from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on the House floor.
“For the fifteenth and God willing final time, Kevin McCarthy,” Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) said moments before midnight. Cheers broke out of “one more time” from Republicans as the final vote began.
Those voting present on McCarthy’s nomination were GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Eli Crane (Ariz.), Bob Good (Va.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.) and Gaetz.
The final vote capped a frantic day for Republican leadership allies as they looked to round up the decisive votes. Two members — Reps.-elect Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Wesley Hunt (R-Texas) — were out of Washington at the start of the day only to dash back for the evening session. Hunt, who just had a newborn son, got a round of applause and a pat on the back from McCarthy after returning to cast his vote.
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