It took 15 votes beginning on Jan. 3, but Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finally gained enough votes on Jan. 7 to be elected the 55th speaker of the House of Representatives in a nail-bitingly close election that ran past midnight in the lower chamber of the U.S. Capitol.
McCarthy’s 216 votes total bested Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who received the votes of all 212 Democrats present in the chamber in all but one of the 15 votes that began a little after noon on Jan. 3 when the 118th Congress convened for the day. Jeffries received 211 on an earlier vote when Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) missed balloting for surgery.
McCarthy’s victory was made possible when the six remaining populist conservative holdouts who had opposed him from the first vote all voted present. That reduced the number of members voting to 428, which reduced McCarthy’s magic number to 216 from 218.
When it became clear that McCarthy had finally secured the speaker’s chair, the Republican side of the House chamber celebrated, with many hugging their new leader, shaking hands, laughing, and slapping one another on the back. McCarthy gave an especially spirited hug to House majority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). McCarthy also posed for selfies with a number of his fellow Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
During a 14th vote about an hour and a half earlier, when everybody in the chamber realized at the end of the roll call that only one more vote was needed to put McCarthy into the speaker’s seat, highly animated conversations took place as members tried to persuade Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) or Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to switch their vote.
But then Gaetz changed his mind and agreed to vote for McCarthy, and a motion to adjourn was defeated, and a 15th vote was to then be taken. Gaetz ended up voting present during the 15th round of voting.
Speaker elections have been one-ballot affairs for the most part in recent years, so McCarthy’s inability to close the deal was a historic departure. Not since before the Civil War has the House required more than 13 ballots to pick a new speaker.
The last time more than 13 ballots were required to elect a speaker was the 36th Congress, which took between Dec. 5, 1859, and Feb. 1, 1860, to settle on William Pennington, a New Jersey Republican.
During a news conference with journalists outside the House chamber shortly after the 13th ballot, McCarthy expressed confidence in the outcome when the House would reconvene later in the evening, saying, “This is the great part because it took this long, now we learned how to govern. So now we’ll be able to get the job done.”
McCarthy had succeeded in switching 13 of the 20 earlier in the day when the votes were counted for the 12th time. Members assembled at noon for the fourth day of speaking, debating, negotiating, and voting in the historic effort to name a successor to now-former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
When the 12th ballots were counted, McCarthy had 213 votes, besting for the first time Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who had received all 212 Democratic votes on every ballot. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who voted for McCarthy, received four, while Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who also voted for McCarthy, got three votes.
McCarthy had won 200 to 203 votes on all of the previous ballots taken. By converting 13 of the 20 to his side, McCarthy moved closer to becoming House speaker.
All of the converts were significant, but especially so on Jan. 6 were House Freedom Caucus (HFC) Chairman Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), the three key leaders of the dissident group.
Other dissidents coming over on the 12th vote to McCarthy were Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), and Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas).
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) voted for McCarthy after voting “present” in six previous ballots.
The great obstacle to resolving the contest was the 20 dissidents demanding multiple reforms in House procedures to empower rank-and-file members and decrease the power of the speaker.
Shortly after the 12th balloting, Perry, whose HFC has been the heart of the dissident movement since last summer, told reporters outside the House chamber that he’s enthusiastic about the concessions from McCarthy and the resulting changes that will follow in how the House conducts its business.
“I trust the framework of the agreement that we have. Quite honestly, the biggest win is the overall framework of it, there’s not one singular thing. You have accountability for the most powerful person in the building. You have changes in how we’re going to spend and allocate money here that are going to be historic, we’re going to be able to finally stop the Senate from rolling us,” Perry said.
“We’re going to see more conservative representation on important committees … we’re going to deal with earmarks differently. All those things about the motion to vacate, the motion to vacate is accountability. One person should be able to make the motion, one person, but the whole body has to vote on it.
“But it needs to be what Thomas Jefferson envisioned it to be because the most powerful person must be held accountable, not only to the American people, but to the purse, the members of this body.”
Perry also insisted that the holdouts weren’t seeking concessions to benefit themselves personally but rather to change the way the House works.
“We’re asking for things to change how this institution works because it doesn’t work for the American people. And we just stood firm, demanded it. Now it makes it difficult for sure. Because this place operates on the status quo, the status quo serves this town, we are sick and tired of it,” he said.
Before Jan. 5, the dissidents had cast votes for a string of candidates, including Donalds, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Ken Hern (R-Okla.), and Jordan.
And, while the members voted, McCarthy and his team, including incoming House Republican Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), engaged in intensive negotiations with Roy, Perry, Biggs, and Donalds, among the dissident group.
McCarthy made multiple concessions to the dissidents and a draft written agreement was circulated late on Jan. 5. McCarthy expressed confidence before the Jan. 6 session convened that “good progress” was being made in the negotiations. His confidence was confirmed on the 13th ballot.