McCarthy fails as tensions boil over on House floor; 15th vote started
WASHINGTON — Republican Kevin McCarthy failed to win the House speakership on a 14th ballot late Friday, falling one vote short as tensions boiled over in a chaotic scene on the House floor.
As the clock neared midnight, the lawmakers plunged into a 15th round of voting.
In the raucous 14th, even after two key Republican holdouts voted present to lower the tally McCarthy would need, it was not enough. He strode to the back of the chamber to confront Matt Gaetz, sitting with Lauren Boebert and other holdouts. Fingers were pointed, words exchanged and violence apparently just averted.
At one point, Republican Mike Rogers of Alabama started to charge toward Gatez before Richard Hudson physically pulled him back.
“Stay civil!” someone shouted.
Still, McCarthy was on the cusp of becoming House speaker as the chamber convened for a fourth historic day after he made extraordinary gains in a grueling standoff that has tested American democracy and the GOP majority’s ability to govern.
Before the vote, McCarthy had flipped 15 conservative holdouts to become supporters, including the chairman of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus, leaving him just a few shy of seizing the gavel for the new Congress.
The House gaveled in late in the night, giving time for last-minute negotiations and for absent Republican colleagues time to return to Washington if their votes were needed. But the chamber drew tense and still as the roll call fell short.
There then was a vote to adjourn — but Republicans led by McCarthy started changing their votes to stay in session, and a 15th round of voting began as the clock neared midnight.
McCarthy had declared to reporters earlier in the day that he believed “we’ll have the votes to finish this once and for all.”
The day’s stunning turn of events came after McCarthy agreed to many of the detractors’ demands — including the reinstatement of a longstanding House rule that would allow any single member to call a vote to oust him from office.
Even if McCarthy is able to secure the votes he needs, he will emerge as a weakened speaker, having given away some powers and constantly under the threat of being booted by his detractors.
But he could also be emboldened as a survivor of one of the more brutal fights for the gavel in U.S. history. Not since the Civil War era has a speaker’s vote dragged through so many rounds of voting.
The showdown that has stymied the new Congress came against the backdrop of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which shook the country when a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying the Republican’s 2020 election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.
At a Capitol event on Friday, some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, observed a moment of silence and praised officers who helped protect Congress on that day. And at the White House, Biden handed out medals to officers and others who fought the attackers.
“America is a land of laws, not chaos,” he said.
At the afternoon speaker’s vote, a number of Republicans tiring of the spectacle temporarily walked out when one of McCarthy’s most ardent challengers railed against the GOP leader.
Contours of a deal with conservative holdouts who have been blocking McCarthy’s rise emerged after three dismal days and 11 failed votes in an intraparty standoff unseen in modern times.
And an upbeat McCarthy told reporters as he arrived at the Capitol, “We’re going to make progress. We’re going to shock you.”
One significant former holdout, Republican Scott Perry, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus who had been a leader of Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election, tweeted after his switched vote for McCarthy: “We’re at a turning point.”
Another Republican holdout, Byron Donalds of Florida, who was repeatedly nominated as an alternative candidate for speaker, switched on Friday, too, voting for McCarthy.
Trump may have played a role in swaying the holdouts. Donalds said he had spoken to the former president who had been urging Republicans to wrap up their public dispute the day before.
On the 12th ballot, McCarthy won the most votes for the first time 213. A 13th was swiftly launched, this time, just between McCarthy and the Democratic leader, and he picked up one more detractor, to 214.
With 432 members now voting — including the dramatic return of Democrat David Trone who had been out for surgery — McCarthy still fell short of the majority. Six Republicans cast their ballots for a Republican colleague. McCarthy allies were counting on the return of two absent colleagues to push him even closer to the majority in nighttime voting.
As Rep. Mike Garcia nominated McCarthy for Friday, he also thanked the U.S. Capitol Police who were given a standing ovation for protecting lawmakers and the legislative seat of democracy on Jan. 6.
But in nominating the Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat Jim Clyburn recalled the horror of that day and told his colleagues: “The eyes of the country are on us today,” he said.
Without a speaker, the chamber is unable swear in members and begin its 2023-24 session, a sign of the difficulty ahead for the new Republican majority as it tries to govern.
Electing a speaker is normally an easy, joyous task for a party that has just won majority control. But not this time: About 200 Republicans have been stymied by 20 far-right colleagues who said he’s not conservative enough.
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House, much the way that some past Republican speakers, including John Boehner, had trouble leading a rebellious right flank. The result: government shutdowns, standoffs and Boehner’s early retirement when conservatives threatened to oust him.
The agreement McCarthy presented to the holdouts from the Freedom Caucus and others centers around rules changes they have been seeking for months. Those changes would shrink the power of the speaker’s office and give rank-and-file lawmakers more influence in drafting and passing legislation.