Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) won enough votes to become the next speaker of the House on Friday night after a heated, dayslong stalemate that broke when the GOP leader finally agreed to a series of concessions to his Republican opponents.
All of the remaining GOP holdouts voted “present” on the 15th ballot, lowering the threshold enough for McCarthy to get a majority of the votes. The vote followed a high-drama 14th ballot in which Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) could be seen pulling Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) back as he appeared to nearly get in an altercation with Gaetz over his vote, which tanked McCarthy in that round.
The California Republican’s path to the speakership was rocky, with a group of conservatives withholding their support unless their demands for substantial rules changes were met. Multiple members cast doubt that he could ever get across the finish line after coming up significantly short on the first 13 rounds. But after reaching a consensus with the conservative hard-liners, caving to the majority of their asks, McCarthy was able to gain momentum on the fourth day of ballots, leaving just six “no” votes for his allies to flip.
After days of negotiations, McCarthy reached an agreement with most of his critics to allow a single member to force a vote to oust a sitting speaker; place more conservatives on coveted committees, including the powerful Rules Committee; cap discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels; establish a “church”-style committee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government; require that a raise in the debt ceiling be paired with spending cuts; and ban McCarthy’s super PAC from interfering in open primaries.
House Republicans falling short of their projected red wave in November left McCarthy with little room for error.
Thirty-six GOP lawmakers voted against him during their internal conference election on Nov. 15, putting before him a daunting task, as he could only lose four votes to get to 218 unless critics voted “present.”
Five conservative hard-liners — former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Reps. Bob Good (R-VA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) — quickly came out against him as “Never Kevin” members.
While the group pledged they would vote as a bloc and would not vote present to bring down the threshold, McCarthy was ultimately able to pick them off.
MCCARTHY CRITICS TAKE AIM AT SPEAKER HOPEFUL’S TACTICS TO SWAY VOTES
For weeks, the California Republican held forums on rules changes and meetings with members hesitant to back him, making compromises on an array of issues in hopes of flipping defectors. As his opponents dug in, he insisted he would bring the battle to the floor until he got the votes.
His efforts ultimately proved successful, with pro-McCarthy lawmakers working up until the final hours ahead of the vote late Friday evening.
“Persistence paid off,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) told the Washington Examiner.
Former President Donald Trump was enlisted to make calls in hopes it would get conservatives on board, with McCarthy also enlisting the help of lawmakers popular among the base such as incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
McCarthy has long sought the speaker’s gavel, unexpectedly dropping out of the race to succeed former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) prior to the internal leadership elections in 2015 amid conservative opposition. Critics at the time took aim at a gaffe related to the Benghazi committee and raised questions about his personal life.
McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006 and saw a swift ascent in the leadership ranks, first being tapped to serve as chief deputy whip in 2009, then elected to serve as whip in 2011 before becoming House majority leader in 2014 and minority leader in 2019.