Kevin McCarthy Wins 15th Bid For House Speaker

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 3, 2023 (updated Jan. 6)

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 04: U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) listens in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives is meeting to vote for the next Speaker after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on three separate Tuesday ballots, the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) talks to Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House Chamber after Gaetz voted present during the fourth day of voting for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives is meeting to vote for the next Speaker after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on several ballots; the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) has FINALLY won his bad to become Speaker of the House. After 15 tries.

This victory comes after a long, long, ugly fight. McCarthy made numerous concessions. He gave House members the power to remove him at a moment’s notice. But he’s here. My original story follows below.

Original Story

The 118th Congress convened today for its first day of work; the first order of business is the election of a speaker. That hasn’t happened. After the first round of voting, no member garnered the necessary amount of votes to be Speaker of the House. McCarthy needs 218 votes to become Speaker. He got 203.

The Republican Party took control of the House after the midterm elections in November. They have a razor-thin majority of just four votes; Republicans represent 218 out of 434 House members. They’re the majority party, and thus it is their job to elect the next speaker. Their failure to do so will not only embarrass McCarthy but make it impossible for Republicans to govern.

What Does the Speaker Do?

The Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. He or she calls the House to order, gaveling the House into session. The Speaker’s duties include the following:

  • preserving order and decorum in the chamber
  • recognizing members who want to speak on the House floor
  • presenting legislation for a vote
  • swearing in new members with the oath of office

Until the House elects a Speaker, no House business can begin. The House cannot swear in new members; it cannot vote on any legislation. This failure to elect paralyzes the House.

Speaker Concessions

Kevin McCarthy wants this job. Bad. He’s made a number of concessions to far-right Republican members in hopes of winning enough votes. One of those concessions is a wide-ranging rules package. As evidenced by Punchbowl News, the rules eliminate proxy voting and remote proceedings, which were instituted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also will eliminate fines for members who don’t abide by mask mandates.

“Congress was never intended for Zoom, and no longer will members be able to phone it in while attending lavish international weddings or sailing on their boat. We will meet, gather and debate in person — just as the founders envisioned,” McCarthy noted in a letter.

Screenshot of the GOP rules package. Photo taken by the author.

The package also includes the so-called Holman rule, which allows lawmakers to use spending bills to defund specific programs and fire federal officials or reduce their pay.

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These changes were demanded by lawmakers. McCarthy accepted them. But that still wasn’t enough. A group of five GOP House members declared that they would not support him. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mt.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) — all vowed to vote for speaker as a bloc, per Axios. McCarthy had five defectors; he could only afford four.

So McCarthy compromised even more. He even crossed what he had called a “red line” — making it easier for members to remove him.

Vote to Vacate

The holdouts demanded a new rule that would allow a “motion to vacate the chair” — meaning that at any time, members could vote to oust the Speaker from office. Under the current rules, there must be majority agreement from a caucus in order to remove the leader. But according to Forbes, a group of seven conservative House members want to change that, so that any member can initiate the procedure to remove the speaker.

This weakens the Speaker considerably. McCarthy refused to accept the change at first. But over the weekend, he finally caved. The New York Times noted: “Lawmakers opposing him had listed the change as one of their top demands, and Mr. McCarthy had earlier refused to swallow it, regarding it as tantamount to signing the death warrant for his speakership in advance. But in recent days, he signaled that he would accept it if the threshold for calling such a vote were five lawmakers rather than a single member.”

So McCarthy capitulated. But it STILL wasn’t enough. The five lawmakers who said they wouldn’t vote for him still wouldn’t vote for him. And on Sunday, more members defected. Nine Republicans — including Scott Perry (PA), Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) and Andrew Clyde (Georgia) — wrote a letter saying McCarthy hadn’t gone far enough.

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The Vote

Today, McCarthy suffered defeat. According to ABC News, “Democrat Hakeem Jeffries earned more votes than Kevin McCarthy — on the first day of a new Republican-controlled House.

Jeffries received 212 votes to McCarthy’s 203. Far-right Republican Andy Biggs of Arizona received 10 votes, and there were nine votes for others, including six for Rep. Jim Jordan. And, in a surprise move, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas voted for Florida’s Byron Donalds.

Nineteen Republicans broke from McCarthy, who could only afford to lose four, marking a stunning defeat by 15 votes. Despite having a majority this Congress, McCarthy got fewer votes this time than the last time he ran for speaker against Nancy Pelosi.”

Second Vote

Undaunted, McCarthy sat through another vote. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) decided to nominate McCarthy again.

“I rise to nominate Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House,” Jordan said, prompting applause from several Republican members. “We need to rally around him, come together, and deal with these three things, because this is what the people sent us here to do,” he added, ticking through Republican priorities in the new Congress.

“We owe it to them, the American people, the good people of this great country, to step forward to come together, get a speaker elected so we can address these three things. I hope you’ll vote for Kevin McCarthy and that’s why I’m proud to nominate him for speaker of the House,” Jordan said, according to ABC News.

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Then Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) rose to nominate Jim Jordan. Gaetz said Jordan’s speech nominating McCarthy displayed “more vision than we have ever heard from the alternative.” Then he took a dig at McCarthy:

“Maybe the right person for the job of Speaker of the House isn’t someone who wants it so bad. Maybe the right person for the job of speaker of the House isn’t someone who has sold shares of themselves for more than a decade to get it.”

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Shortly afterward, the House held a second vote. Once again, McCarthy failed to get enough votes. 19 Republicans voted against him, including Reps. Biggs, Gaetz, Good, Norman and Rosendale.

The result was the same as before: McCarthy garnered just 203 votes to Jeffries’ 212. So the process begins anew.

Third Vote

This time, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) nominated McCarthy:

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) nominated Jim Jordan:

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The House is holding a third roll call vote as I write this.

BREAKING NEWS (4:30 pm CST): Kevin McCarthy has failed to garner enough votes to make him House Speaker. This is the third time he’s failed. It is unclear where he goes from here.

But the House is going home. As the House clerk announced for a third time that “A speaker has not been elected,” a man rose. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a McCarthy ally, rose from his seat to address the House floor. The clerk asked why he was getting up; Cole said he wanted to adjourn. The House voted on the motion. The motion passed.

The House is in recess until noon tomorrow.

UPDATE (7:10 PM):

Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360, the host asked Mick Mulvaney what he thought of the result. “It’s outrageous. I talked to the bunch of the folks who voted against Kevin. I asked him what their plan was. They don’t seem to have one, other than to keep voting against Kevin. I asked them what they want; they don’t seem to be coherent to that,” Mulvaney said. “I asked them who they want; they don’t have any names.”

A number of those who didn’t vote for McCarthy say it’s not personal, Cooper noted. Mulvaney opined: “I think it’s absolutely personal. Look, I listened to them today talk about the things that they don’t like. And they’re asking for things that Kevin can’t give, they’re complaining about things that are not Kevin’s fault, and sometimes they’re asking for things that Kevin has already agreed to give them. So I absolutely believe it’s personal.”

Battle Over Speaker’s Office

UPDATE (9:12 pm): McCarthy is now No. 1 on Twitter’s trending topics amid a battle over the speaker’s office.

Even though he hasn’t been elected yet, Kevin McCarthy has already moved into the speaker’s office. Cameras caught staffers moving his things into the office earlier today:

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Tonight, Matt Gaetz wrote a letter to the Architect of the Capitol, complaining about McCarthy being there.

UPDATE (12:30 PM, Jan. 4): The House had another vote today. McCarthy lost. (Again.) And the math is going in the wrong direction: McCarthy got just 201 votes on this go-round, down from 202 in the third. (He got 203 the first two rounds.)

Where do we go from here?

UPDATE (1:04 PM): The fifth vote cast against McCarthy essentially dooms his chances on his fifth attempt. McCarthy can only afford four Republican opponents; this fifth vote (cast for Rep. Donalds) is too much.

UPDATE (1:54 PM): The fifth vote is over. McCarthy has 201 votes. He needs 217. (Right now, only 433 House members are present at the vote. One member is absent. One seat is empty because a Democratic rep from Virginia recently died. Because of those absences, only 433 members voted. Thus McCarthy needs 217 votes to get a majority. But he can’t.)

UPDATE (3:00 PM): McCarthy failed to win enough votes on a sixth ballot. This time, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Florida) got 20 votes, depriving McCarthy of the job he so desperately craves. McCarthy also failed on a seventh ballot.

Tensions Rise After 14th Vote

Tonight, Kevin McCarthy suffered yet another defeat. Earlier today, McCarthy won over a group of 15 right-wing holdouts, according to the New York Times. That win gave him momentum, leading to a late-night Friday vote.

That left just six holdouts: Representatives Andy Biggs and Eli Crane (R-Arizona), Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado), Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), Bob Good (R-Virginia) and Matt Rosendale (R-Montana. To win the speakership, he needed two of them to support him; three of them to vote “present” or abstain from voting; or one to support him and one to abstain or vote present.

But he still came up short. On the 14th try, McCarthy got as close as he’s ever gotten. With 432 members present, McCarthy garnered 216 votes — still just one short of the majority he needed. Gaetz and Boebert voted “present”, denying McCarthy the speakership.

Icy Standoff

McCarthy got up and confronted Gaetz. The result was a scene rife with sharp words and finger-pointing:

After McCarthy left, House Rep-elect Mike Rogers lunged at Gaetz and had to be restrained by other members:

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: U.S. Rep.-elect Mike Rogers (R-AL) is restrained by Rep.-elect Richard Hudson (R-NC) after getting into an argument with Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House Chamber during the fourth day of voting for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives is meeting to vote for the next Speaker after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on several ballots; the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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After this dysfunctional scene, the House voted to adjourn. The motion appeared to be on the verge of passing. But then McCarthy raised his hand, waving a red piece of paper. And then everyone changed their vote.

Instead of voting to adjourn, House members reversed course and opted to stay. At that moment, word broke that Gaetz would change his vote and vote for McCarthy.

Then one member stood up to nominate McCarthy. And another vote commenced. This time, he finally prevailed. With six members voting “present”, McCarthy’s vote threshold needed to win dipped to 216. And McCarthy garnered 216 votes. Therefore, he becomes speaker.

This story will be updated.

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