Kevin McCarthy’s Road To Speaker Was Filled With Drama And Dysfunction – Deadline
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally got the speakership early Saturday morning, but not before a weeklong slog that saw flared tempers, animated huddles and, in the penultimate drama before his moment of victory, a near-brawl.
Inside the chamber, many reporters in the press gallery had risen from their seats once McCarthy walked down the center aisle to converse with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the lone holdout he needed to obtain a majority, as McCarthy’s allies sat and crouched down to plead with the dissident. “On your knees,” one Democrat said loudly, as other lawmakers began to fix their gaze on what was unfolding.
Soon voices were raised. Gaetz pointed his finger at McCarthy, and McCarthy’s face was one of utter frustration. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) walked over and, in a moment that will forever live in the annals of House speaker votes, began to lunge at Gaetz before being restrained by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC).
From the gallery, gasps were heard on the floor, and for a bit it looked as it the confrontation would descend into something resembling the shoving matches that occasionally break out during an NFL game. Rogers was dragged away and an angry McCarthy walked back to say something to Gaetz. “Keep it civil,” one lawmaker could be heard saying.
“Madame clerk, I rise to say, ‘Wow,’” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), said later, as he nominated Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries when the vote went to the 15th and final ballot.
Largely thanks to C-SPAN, given much more free rein to capture candid moments among the lawmakers, viewers saw the drama and disarray.
But before and after the near brawl, McCarthy and his allies already had been preparing to explain the weeklong speaker vote, fueled by the GOP’s slim majority, as part of the sometimes messy but necessary spectacle of governing. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), a holdout who switched his support to McCarthy on Friday, said that was the “legitimate deliberative process” perhaps not witnessed in more than 100 years.
“I know that many of you have said, ‘Oh, the dysfunction. The chaos.’ To the contrary. There is nothing chaotic or dysfunctional about members having legitimate conversations and disagreements,” Donalds told journalists earlier in the day.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), another holdout, told reporters after McCarthy’s win, “Obviously it got a little tense in there on the vote. Everybody sorted themselves out.”
McCarthy’s ability to pull out a victory came as a bit of a surprise to doubters on the left and the right. During the week, there were plenty of moments where his chances were being written off, or TV punditry was predicting that it was just a matter of time before an alternative scenario emerged. For a brief period after the floor conflict, he sat in his seat looking utterly dejected, as Republicans moved to adjourn until Monday. Then there was a last-seconds scramble to reverse votes and keep Congress in session, as he and his allies got word of a new scenario to put him over the top.
As much as Republicans savor McCarthy’s victory, the images that played out on TV throughout the week was one of dysfunction. For much of the week, the House did not function.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said that his office couldn’t conduct constituent services this week because, technically, he had not been sworn in to a new term. That also meant that he did not have a security clearance, and could not make a scheduled meeting with Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Those momentary lapses may soon be forgotten, as the agonizing vote signals more acrimony ahead. Coming up is a congressional debate over raising the debt ceiling, expected later this year. Although the exact language has not yet been made public, there are reports that McCarthy, in his concessions to the far right, has agreed to a scenario in which the House GOP wouldn’t do a “clean” raising of the debt limit, without extracting other concessions like spending cuts. Republicans say they are frustrated by the practice of pushing through massive spending bills to avert government shutdowns, most recently the $1.7 billion omnibus, but the Trump era had its share of late-night legislation. That said, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) predicted “division” and “default” ahead, perhaps not just the prospect of government shutdowns but Wall Street angst over the government’s full faith and credit.
Other scenes throughout the week weren’t as disconcerting, but reflected tradition old and new. In the hall outside the press gallery was the smell of cigar smoke coming from the office of Tom Cole, the new Rules Committee chairman, a throwback to the norms of a century ago. On the floor, throughout the week, was the sight of Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), carrying his infant baby around the floor.
Other figures appear to be crafting new images in the new GOP establishment. Earlier in the week, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) griped to reporters that it was a small minority of the caucus holding up the majority. She chided the group for being on the team of “never,” as in the “never” Kevin caucus, apparently shrugging off criticism from never-Trumpers that she’s got her own history of extremism.
Even as McCarthy pulled out a victory, there is ample skepticism as to how long it will last, in a political and fund-raising environment that rewards social media presence, viral moments and anti-establishment fervor. Some lawmakers missed roll calls because they were in the midst of talking at the sticks, the lineup of cameras just outside the House chamber.
As the holdouts switched their votes earlier on Friday, giving McCarthy’s speaker bid new life, his backers went into loud applause. Adam Kinzinger, the former Republican congressman newly signed to CNN, wrote on Twitter, “Weird watching the Republican cheer and clap for those who have made their life hell. So, lesson for future members, don’t be a team player.”
Kinzinger, who was shunned by fellow Republicans as he and Liz Cheney joined the January 6th Committee of the last Congress, also noted the auspicious day for the speaker votes: The second anniversary of the Capitol attacks. A number of the McCarthy dissidents, now apparently onboard, were some of the most virulent defenders of Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen from him.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) missed the initial roll call shortly after noon. When his name was called again, he played into the drama of it all: He walked down the center aisle of the chamber, waved his head and said McCarthy’s name. He was loudly cheered. Although two years to the moment, he tweeted“Biden should concede. I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning.” The January 6th Committee of the last Congress is dissolved; the new Congress promises a new set of investigations, McCarthy said, including “the weaponization of the FBI.”
The next few months, maybe even the next few weeks, will determine whether the next scenes will be deliberative or dysfunctional — or maybe it is in the eye of the beholder.
When he spoke to reporters on Friday, Donalds was asked just why he ran for Congress back in 2020. “To be blunt, I did not want to come here. I knew, and I heard about the dysfunction of this place,” he said, before deciding to run.
Then a reporter reminded him that he had just chided reporters for calling Congress “dysfunctional.”
“That was before I got here,” Donalds said.
Shortly after Congress adjourned, as 2 a.m. ET approached, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), who at 25 was newly sworn in as the youngest member of Congress, said, “I’m just happy we got that over with. There’s real impacts on this type of stuff. I know it’s entertaining for some people on TV, but it has a real impact at home. So I am excited to get to work, and excited to sleep.”