Just after midnight Friday, the Bakersfield, Calif., congressman finally secured the votes he needed to pick up the gavel after a grueling series of failed votes which saw a gang of nearly 20 Republicans repeatedly rail against the longtime leader of the House GOP.
The impasse began to emerge on Friday morning. McCarthy held a conversation with Republicans, saying he and the party were in a “good position.” The ensuing 12th ballot saw 14 members who had previously opposed him cast roll-call votes for McCarthy. One more, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Med.), joined on the 13th vote, after which the House adjourned. “I’ll Have the Votes,” McCarthy predicted to CNN on Friday night’s vote.
McCarthy still trailed by one. Although Never Kevin leaders Matt Goetz and Lauren Boebert voted “present” instead of in opposition, McCarthy still failed to garner more than half the votes on the 14th roll call. A heated face-to-face confrontation between Goetz and McCarthy on the House floor failed to change the outcome, and McCarthy instead headed to the 15th round of voting.
Then, on the 15th attempt, the anti-McCarthy bloc surrendered together, with six members voting “present” instead of in opposition, lowering the threshold for victory and allowing McCarthy to break through with a 216-vote majority.
Opposition to McCarthy’s oratory was centered in the far-right freedom faction, with members attacking McCarthy as a lobbyist-protected, unscrupulous negotiator who would never go along with his populist ultra-MAGA demands. Some of the opposition was ideological; at least rhetorically, of Freedom Group advocated financial restraint and members considered McCarthy too free-spending. For others, the conflict seemed much more personalas in the case of Never-Kevin frontman Matt Getz.
The hardline Freedom Caucus has long wielded political power beyond its modest numbers, failing to support party-line votes essential to conducting business in the House and stalling business. Voting for president is usually a routine display of party unity. McCarthy was nominated as his party’s speaker nominee in late 2022 by a landslide at the House Republican Conference. But to secure the gavel, McCarthy needed an absolute majority of House members to vote for him. With all 214 Democrats voting in unison for their new leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, McCarthy could suffer no more than four GOP defections, given the slim electoral margin afforded Republicans during the midterm elections. in 2022 with a “red wave”.
Using the Freedom Caucus’ favorite obstructionist tactic, 19 GOP members denied McCarthy a party endorsement on Tuesday’s first ballot. It was the first time in 100 years that a president was not elected on the first ballot. The second vote also failed, and with the third the number of Republicans against McCarthy climbed to 20. Former President Donald Trump publicly tried to rally support for McCarthy on Wednesday, but to no avail. The number of Republicans who refused to vote for him rose to 21 in the three votes held later that day.
I’m trying to get some support, McCarthy agreed to a number of major concessions Wednesday night, but that didn’t matter either. He lost all four votes held on Thursday without gaining any ground. Each loss made McCarthy’s embarrassment even more historic, with the congressman eventually losing more speaker votes than in any race since before the Civil War.
Negotiations intensified with the leader of the Republican Party ceding even more power of the hostages in his group. McCarthy reportedly agreed to the demands, which would have allowed any individual Republican House member to trigger another vote to remove McCarthy’s gavel. McCarthy also promised a vote on key issues, including term limits for House members. The new speaker is also said to have pledged there will be no “clean” vote to raise the federal debt ceiling later this year.
For McCarthy, 57, winning the vote Friday night marked the end of a nearly decade-long quest to become speaker. The Californian was next in line to take office in 2015, when the Freedom Caucus successfully unseated then-Speaker John Boehner. But McCarthy withdrew his candidacy at the last minute in the wake of a gaffe in which he admitted that the real purpose of the Benghazi investigation was to lower Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, and amid rumors of personal indiscretion. After playing second fiddle to eventual Speaker Paul Ryan and weathering the turmoil of the Trump era, McCarthy has once again put himself in position to provide the gavel to launch the 118th Congress.
In the run-up to the 2022 election, McCarthy barely concealed his ambition, infamously “joking” about an imaginary transfer of power: “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel,” he told a GOP audience in Tennessee in 2021 “It will be hard not to hit her with it.” And even before this week’s extended election drama, McCarthy took the purported step of moving into the Speaker’s Chamber.
McCarthy may finally become speaker, but the chaos that preceded his election is a dangerous sign for the nation moving forward, shutting down the House for days as a prelude to what will almost certainly become a full shutdown of the government during this congress.
McCarthy finally has his gavel, but the freedom faction has McCarthy by the scruff of the neck. This far-right faction is now in a position to ask the Speaker to join them in their hostage-taking. A vote to fund the federal government or raise the debt ceiling is likely to degenerate into high-stakes games of chicken, with the GOP demanding that extremist priorities be met — or the full faith and credit of the United States government suffer the consequences.
The presidential election may have been a clown show, but it may pale in comparison to the two years of tension ahead, as the Republican Party discards any concern for the well-being of the American people to embark on a series of confrontations with the Biden administration, and bogus Benghazi-style investigations of their political enemies. And even after handing over the farm to his Freedom Forum foes, McCarthy’s tenure as speaker could be nasty, brutal and short. As the Freedom Forum’s founder, retired Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, put it A rolling stone: “They can completely undo it.”
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