The United States House of Representatives finally has a speaker as Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected in a historic vote after midnight on the 15th early Saturday, ending a paralyzing standoff with right-wing opponents that raised concerns about his party’s ability to exercise power in Congress.
It took a historic 15 rounds of voting for McCarthy to win. This was only secured after a late-night high-drama session in which the Republicans nearly got into a fight when passions flared up.
It also required significant concessions to a small group of Republican conservatives who opposed his candidacy and turned the show of party unity into a multi-day show of internal division.
The Speaker wields vital influence in Washington, presiding over the affairs of the House of Representatives, and is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.
But McCarthy has been weakened by a drawn-out election and the promises he has been forced to make to hardliners, who have demonstrated the leverage they wield given Republicans’ slim majority in the lower house of Congress.
The chaos and confusion watched with glee and disdain by Democratic challengers across the aisle may be evidence of years of paralysis in legislation and decision-making on important issues for the country and the world.
Taking the hammer early Saturday morning, McCarthy, backed by former President Donald Trump, outlined aggressive Republican attack lines ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
He vowed to “pass bills to address the country’s problems, from the wide-open southern border to the ‘America Last’ energy policy, to spark indoctrination in our schools.”
“America’s long-term problems – debt and the rise of the Chinese Communist Party – Congress needs to speak unanimously on both of these issues,” the 57-year-old Californian told the House of Representatives.
When the 14th vote began before midnight Friday, McCarthy failed amid heated exchanges as he was only one vote short of a majority out of more than 400 cast.
When Matt Goetz voted “in attendance” to reject McCarthy, the frustrated Republican leader approached the Florida legislator-elect for a face-to-face meeting in the boardroom.
In scenes shown live, Getz pointed his finger at McCarthy, who stepped back before Alabama’s Mike Rogers lunged at Getz and had to be restrained with a restraining hand to the face.
“The speaker selection process, as crazy as it may seem, has made it much bigger and more important than if it were done in a more traditional way,” Trump added on his Truth Social platform.
“Congratulations to Kevin McCarthy and our GREAT Republican Party!” added the former president, who launched his 2024 re-election campaign to return to the White House.
Democratic President Joe Biden optimistically called for closer cooperation between the two parties.
“I’m ready to work with the Republicans when I can, and voters have made it clear that they expect the Republicans to be willing to work with me,” Biden said after McCarthy’s victory.
The tumultuous 2023 contest has had more rounds of voting than any speaker election since the Civil War.
Concessions to the far right?
McCarthy has shown confidence all week, even as he has been losing votes rather than adding to the base of about 200 Republicans who have backed him all along.
His party’s rise to power in Congress is also expected to launch an investigation into most aspects of the Biden administration and his family.
Democrats and some McCarthy supporters are privately concerned that he has offered his far-right critics sweeping political commitments that would make the House ungovernable.
There were reports that he agreed to offer to keep spending at 2022 levels, including capping military funding, which would have the same effect as a $75 billion cut.
This has raised alarm among defense hawks who are pushing for a show of force by the US amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s encouragement over Taiwan.
Other legislators complained that McCarthy gave committee positions to hardliners and made rule changes that severely limited the speaker’s role.
The renegade Republicans are supposed to have flipped their votes in exchange for rule changes to allow the speaker to be ousted in a vote by only one member.
Democrats said the speaker’s role would be a poisoned cup, as the compromises McCarthy made would make him the weakest orator in modern history.