Kevin McCarthy, elected House speaker in a dramatic late-night session

The leader of the Republican majority secured the necessary votes after three days of being denied the post by extremists within his own party

Kevin McCarthy, applauded by his fellow Republicans, on Friday.
Kevin McCarthy, applauded by his fellow Republicans, on Friday.WIN MCNAMEE (Getty)

Republican Kevin McCarthy, 57, was elected House speaker on a historic post-midnight 15th ballot early Saturday, overcoming holdouts from his own ranks and floor tensions that boiled over after a chaotic week that tested the new GOP majority’s ability to govern.

“My father always told me, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” McCarthy told cheering fellow Republicans.

McCarthy, 57, is the establishment candidate of the Republican Party, which narrowly triumphed in the November midterm elections. After days of offering numerous concessions to 21 extremist members of the House, he finally managed to secure the magic number of 218 – a majority of the 435 seats in the lower chamber of Congress.

Kevin McCarthy faces off with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz after the 14th ballot.
Kevin McCarthy faces off with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz after the 14th ballot.SHAWN THEW (EFE)

Among the numerous concessions that McCarthy has offered is the reintroduction of an old procedural rule, which allows – at any time – a single member of the 435-person House to submit a no-confidence motion in the speaker’s leadership. This would effectively trigger an immediate vote to remove him. It would be almost impossible to preside over the House with such a sword hanging over one’s head. McCarthy is even willing to give the Freedom Caucus – which represents less than 10% of the Republican Party – a disproportionately high number of powerful committee assignments in the House.

McCarthy has also offered to dissolve the commission investigating the 2021 assault on the Capitol as soon as possible, while setting up a new commission to investigate President Joe Biden (who, unlike his predecessor, is accused of no crimes). All of this would stand to benefit Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, by ending House probes into his affairs, while also impacting the ability of the Democratic-held White House to pass legislation.

The Freedom Caucus originally made a list of their demands in early December. McCarthy already agreed to incorporate some of these into the new House regulations. Should he be elected speaker, telecommuting for votes or committee participation will be prohibited, metal detectors (installed by Pelosi) will be removed from the chamber and new spending bills will need to be matched with proposals to cut federal expenditure.

After four days of grueling ballots, McCarthy flipped more than a dozen conservative holdouts to become supporters, including the chairman of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus.

The last time that it took so many rounds of voting for a speaker to be elected was in 1859, just before the Civil War broke out. Back then, it took 133 rounds of voting for someone to prevail.

Finally elected, McCarthy took the oath of office, and the House was finally able to swear in newly elected lawmakers who had been waiting all week for the chamber to formally open and the 2023-24 session to begin.

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