Republican Kevin McCarthy was on Saturday elected speaker of the US House of Representatives on a historic post-midnight 15th ballot.
Newly elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy takes the oath of office (AFP photo)
By Devika Bhattacharya: After 14 failed rounds of voting, Republican Kevin McCarthy was on Saturday elected speaker of the US House of Representatives on a historic post-midnight 15th ballot.
McCarthy won on a margin of 216-212. He was able to be elected with the votes of fewer than half the House members only because six in his own party withheld their votes — not backing McCarthy as leader, but also not voting for another contender.
The Republicans, who hold a razor-thin majority, had been mired in infighting as McCarthy failed to win a majority in multiple ballots. In fact, there were more rounds of voting in the fractious 2023 contest than in any speaker election since the Civil War.
McCarthy ultimately prevailed in the 15th round 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.
‘NOW THE HARD WORK BEGINS’
In his first speech as House speaker, Kevin McCarthy told his colleagues, “Now the hard work begins.”
“What we do here today, next week, next month, next year, will set the tone for everything that follows,” he said, reported CNN.
“As speaker of the House, my ultimate responsibility is not to my party, my conference, or even our Congress,” McCarthy said. “My responsibility, our responsibility, is to our country.”
He further pledged the House will address “the rise of the Chinese communist party”.
The hard-fought victory marks the pinnacle of the 57-year-old California Republican’s political career, as he steadily rose through his party’s House leadership in the last decade. Yet his win also illuminated the frailty of his mandate and the deep fault lines within his own party.
McCarthy was always the frontrunner to lead the Republican-led House, but his victory was almost derailed by a right-wing revolt in the GOP. Through the last four grueling days of voting, he was forced to make significant concessions to a 20-member cabal of ultra-conservatives.
The concessions included diminishing his own clout as speaker by allowing any lawmaker be able call for his removal at any time. The speaker wields huge influence in Washington by presiding over House business and is second in line to the presidency, after the vice president.
TENSE SCENES IN HOUSE
Dramatic scenes played out in the House after the 14th round of voting as McCarthy fell short by one vote out of more than 400 cast. He marched to the back of the chamber to confront Rep. Matt Gaetz, who had voted for former President Donald Trump in one of the previous rounds and withheld his vote this time.
Fingers were pointed, words exchanged and violence apparently just averted, as per an Associated Press report. Republican Mike Rogers, who had also stormed over to confront Gaetz, had to be physically pulled away.
The historic ballot came two years to the day after the January 6 Capitol insurrection in 2021. Interestingly, some of the conservatives who submerged the House in a bitter stalemate were the most vocal supporters of Donald Trump’s effort to challenge the 2020 election.
In his bid for the speaker’s chair, McCarthy ended up making a number of concessions to these renegade Republicans. In the wake of this, Democrats said McCarthy’s role would be a “poisoned chalice”, as the compromises he has made will leave him as the weakest speaker in modern history.
(With inputs from Agencies)