Kevin McCarthy finally achieved his goal and was elected Speaker of the House. McCarthy was elected after days of failure amid the most chaotic speaker’s election in more than a century. The celebrations might be short-lived given what’s looming ahead of Congress. Something is loading.
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Representative-elect Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House early Saturday morning, fulfilling a long-held ambition and ending the most chaotic House leader selection in more than a century.
“That was easy, huh?” McCarthy deadpanned just after 1 a.m. EST after receiving the speaker’s gavel. “My dad always told me that’s not how you start, that’s how you end, and now we have to finish strong for the American people.”
McCarthy snagged the president’s gavel after 15 ballots and in the wee hours of the fifth day of voting. His victory was finally assured after days of struggle. Early Friday, McCarthy and his allies managed to swing more than a dozen votes to his side, injecting palpable momentum into a sorely trailing candidacy.
The leaders then agreed to postpone the final votes until Friday evening. The final hours have sparked almost Shakespearean scenes on the house floor.
Rep-elect Mike Rogers of Alabama had to be restrained as he appeared to rush Rep-elect Matt Gaetz of Florida who refused to budge from voting “present”. House GOP leaders then rushed to delay future votes until Monday before abruptly backtracking and forcing an immediate 15th vote.
—Josh Bergeron (@Joshpberg) January 7, 2023
McCarthy ultimately prevailed.
It should never have happened like this.
The election of a speaker is normally very simple. Prior to this week, the House had gone an entire century without even needing a second ballot to choose its leader. McCarthy’s victory consumed the most ballots since the end of the Civil War. Part of the lack of recent drama is due to previous congresses resolving their differences within their parties ahead of the official floor vote. Lawmakers in McCarthy’s position, carrying a party from minority to majority, are practically slipping on good feelings about taking back the majority.
Faced with disappointing mid-terms, McCarthy had little room for error. And after years of harsh speakers, average lawmakers have grown restless about being cut off from discussions surrounding major legislation. Some of the resisters were clearly not as interested in McCarthy.
Victory celebrations are likely to be short-lived.
To secure his position, McCarthy has agreed to a set of rules that will cede significant power to conservative lawmakers who have demonstrated for days that they owe the Californian nothing. One of those concessions, according to Politico’s Olivia Beavers, would allow any lawmaker to essentially call a vote of no confidence and push McCarthy out of power. The ‘motion to quit’ has only been voted on once in a century, but its introduction by Rep. Mark Meadows in 2015 set off a series of events that ultimately culminated in the president’s retirement of the time, John Boehner.
According to News, McCarthy also agreed to a deal that would cap future government spending at 2022 levels, meaning the Pentagon would see a cut in funding of around $75 billion. Any defense spending would require Senate approval, but jeopardizing defense budgets, which most Republicans want to increase even more, will likely spark the ire of more establishment-friendly lawmakers. Later in the evening, several reports warned that the cuts could be supported by programs unrelated to defense, although Democrats are unlikely to agree to such cuts.
Later this year, Congress will be tasked with raising the debt ceiling. If lawmakers fail to do so, the United States will default on its debt, almost certain to send domestic and international markets into a tailspin. The mere threat of breaching the debt ceiling in 2011 led to a historic credit downgrade under the Obama administration.
The reality McCarthy will soon face is that running a tightly divided chamber is incredibly difficult. He will also have to grapple with a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House, which is sure to stall many conservative priorities. With just five votes to spare, the current president may be forced to rely on House Democrats to pass bills that Congress needs to act on. But making any deal across the aisle could spark a conservative revolt that could topple McCarthy.