Kevin McCarthy finally elected US House Speaker after 15 rounds of votes

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New Delhi: After 15 rounds of voting, which saw a long drawn out infighting in the Republican Party, Representative Kevin McCarthy finally was elected the US House speaker on Saturday.

The 57-year-old Californian needed a simple majority to be elected as Washington’s top legislator, who presides over House business and is second in line to the presidency.

But still, his election took over four days that saw him fall short of the number required in 14 rounds of voting, ending short of just one vote the last time.

Longest vote in over 160 years

The US House of Representatives has 435 seats and to win the Speaker’s chair a candidate must get 218 votes or the majority of those present and voting. If a candidate fails to do so, the house keeps on voting till a candidate reaches the threshold. In 1856 it took 133 rounds of voting in two months for the House to elect a speaker, the longest vote so far.

McCarthy was supported by 200 Republicans who were stymied by 20 far-right colleagues who thought he wasn’t conservative enough.

Earlier after Kevin failed to win the House speakership on a 14th ballot late Friday, the lawmakers plunged into a 15th round of voting, as the clock neared midnight,

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 gruelling standoff that 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 gavelled 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.

A deal to win over detractors

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 US history. Not since the Civil War era has a speaker’s vote dragged through so many rounds of voting.

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’s allies were counting on the return of two absent colleagues to push him even closer to the majority in night-time voting.

As Representative Mike Garcia nominated McCarthy for Friday, he also thanked the US Capitol Police who were given a standing ovation for protecting lawmakers and the legislative seat of democracy on 6 January.

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 to 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 disorganised 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 centres 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.

At the core of the emerging deal is the reinstatement of a House rule that would allow a single lawmaker to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially calling a vote to oust the speaker. McCarthy had resisted allowing a return to the longstanding rule that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had done away with because it had been held over the head of past Republican Speaker Boehner. But it appears McCarthy had no other choice.

Other wins for the holdouts are more obscure and include provisions in the proposed deal to expand the number of seats available on the House Rules Committee, to mandate 72 hours for bills to be posted before votes and to promise to try for a constitutional amendment that would impose federal limits on the number of terms a person could serve in the House and Senate.

What started as a political novelty, the first time since 1923 a nominee had not won the gavel on the first vote, has devolved into a bitter Republican Party feud, and deepening potential crisis.

Before Friday’s ballots, Democratic leader Jeffries of New York had won the most votes on every ballot but also remained short of a majority. McCarthy ran second, gaining no ground.

Pressure has grown with each passing day for McCarthy to somehow find the votes he needs or step aside. Congress cannot fully function, the incoming Republican chairmen of the House’s Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees all said national security was at risk, and staff risk not getting paychecks.

With inputs from Agencies

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Kevin McCarthy finally elected US House Speaker after 15 rounds of votes
Kevin McCarthy finally elected US House Speaker after 15 rounds of votes
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