Finally! Kevin McCarthy wins House speakership in dramatic 15-round voting marathon

McCarthy lays out ambitious agenda with a narrowly divided Congress, starting with eliminating 87,000 IRS agents.

Published: January 6, 2023 12:27pm

Updated: January 7, 2023 1:51am

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy captured the House speakership in dramatic fashion early Saturday, winning enough votes on a historic 15th ballot when 20 renegade Republicans changed their votes under enormous pressure after they won significant concessions about how Congress will operate going forward.

The final vote was 216-212-6.

"I hope one thing is clear after this week, I never give up," McCarthy said in a speech on the House floor after House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries handed him the gavel. "I make this promise: I'll never give up for you, the American people. And I will never give up on keeping our commitment to America."

McCarthy said the GOP-led House's first legislative action would be repealing the billions of dollars in funding from the Democrats' Inflation Reduction Act that was dedicated for the hiring of up to 87,000 IRS agents.

In total,15 of the conservative GOP holdouts switched to vote for McCarthy and 6 voted present. 

The weeklong drama captured on national television exposed deep divisions within the Republican caucus that are certain to resurface throughout the 118th Congress, and it ended with all the drama of a Hollywood movie.

McCarthy won about an hour after he lost on a 14th ballot by a single vote when some of his renegade colleagues voted differently than expected.

The public witnessed moments of tension among the GOP conference as McCarthy, who was just one vote short of the speakership, walked over to speak with Colorado GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who both voted present. While the 14th round vote tally was being finalized, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama had to be restrained after he confronted holdout Gaetz and a flustered McCarthy dashed into the seats. 

Republicans even began the process of adjourning for the night, exhausted and expecting more marathon negotiations ahead. But then suddenly Gaetz came down to McCarthy and suggested there was a deal for the holdouts to vote present, reducing the number required for a win. 

At that moment, many Republicans, who voted to adjourn rushed down to the clerks and change their votes to keep the session open so the historic 15th ballot could take place shortly after midnight. 

Democrats had none of the drama, rallying early and often around New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to be their leader, injecting youth into a leadership that had been dominated by octogenarians like retiring Speaker Nancy Leader Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The GOP's deal followed a week of marathon negotiations, that at times involved former President Donald Trump, and spewed vitriol on television, and in private meetings, as Republicans tried to work out differences over the rules governing how votes will take place over the next two years.

Most of the original 20 holdouts said their primary concern was to change the way Congress operates so that they could begin to reduce the massive spending that has grown the national debt to nearly $32 trillion. The stalemate also kept members from being sworn in and constituents from having a lawful representative to answer their concerns or calls.

The concessions McCarthy made to win over more support from conservatives in the GOP conference included reducing the number of members needed to initiate a speaker recall to one, changes to the chamber's appropriations process and limiting McCarthy and his super PAC's meddling in House GOP primaries. These changes are reflected in the rules package that's under consideration. The rules package will likely be voted on next week.

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