Rep. Kevin McCarthy elected Speaker of the House

Representative Kevin McCarthy was elected to the position of Speaker of the House following the retirement of Representative Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, and a historic 15 rounds of ballots. // Photo courtesy of U.S. House Photography

15th time’s the charm? That’s not how the saying goes, but for Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 20th District), that was the reality as his vie for Speaker of the House for the 118th Congress resulted in a very historic 15 rounds of voting. 

The 2022 midterm election resulted in House Republicans holding a slim majority of seats, which meant that House Democrats would no longer be holding the gavel. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 11th District) stepped down as House Democrats leader and was replaced by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY 8th District). The House Democrats rallied behind Jeffries following Pelosi’s choice to step down from leadership positions, but for McCarthy, the leader of the House Republicans, the support from his party was not nearly as sweeping. 

Only a simple majority of votes is needed to cast a winner for the Speaker position. This means that at least 218 votes of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are needed. 

McCarthy has displayed his aspirations for the Speaker position in the past few years, but his seemingly uncontested run would result in the most attempted speakership votes since the Civil War and the only time the Speaker has not been chosen in one vote since the end of World War I, more than a century ago. 

Judge Cheryl L. Johnson, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, announced the first split of votes during the first day of the 118th Congress,  Jan. 3, 2023. Jeffries received the most votes with all 212 Democrats, but McCarthy was stifled by GOP holdouts, 20 of which united in support of Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th District) by the final vote of the day. Jordan himself voted for McCarthy during all 15 attempts. After three consecutive failures, the meeting was adjourned until Wednesday, Jan. 4.

On Wednesday, votes four through six resulted in anti-McCarthy Republicans voting for Representative Byron Donalds (R-FL 19th District), and the meeting of all newly-elected House members was once again adjourned without a new chosen Speaker of the House.

On Thursday, Jan. 5, tensions were high as votes seven through eleven signaled that the GOP holdouts would not be willing to give up anytime soon, especially after a vote for Speaker of the House was cast for Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States who is not a member of the 118th Congress, by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL 1st District).

After the Thursday night adjournment, McCarthy made several concessions for the GOP holdouts to finally agree to vote for him the following day. Some of the concessions included promising committee chairmanships to certain Republican congressional members in exchange for their votes, budget cuts to government entitlement programs if the debt ceiling has to be raised to avoid a government shutdown and agreeing to a one member vote that could remove Speaker McCarthy from his position. 

Despite the concessions, Friday, Jan. 6 was still a long day filled with much action. Representative ​Mike Rogers (R-AL 3rd District) confronted  Gaetz after Gaetz went against his promise to stop blocking McCarthy on the 14th vote. Rogers had to be restrained by a colleague.

Finally, after 14 votes and four long days, on Jan. 6, two years to the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House with only 216 votes. Some of the holdouts refused to vote for him, but did not cast a ballot for any other members which enabled McCarthy to win despite not reaching the 218-vote threshold. 

In an interview with Fox News, House Freedom Caucus Chairman, Scott Perry (R-PA 10th District) said, “I wouldn’t say that we’ve been against McCarthy.” Instead, he emphasized that the concessions were part of the caucus’s priority to hold house leadership accountable to best serve its constituents. 

McCarthy has a long two years ahead of him as Speaker of the House, but what do his concessions mean for regular citizens, and does the divide in the GOP signal a tumultuous tenure for the 118th Congress? 

Third-year INTA student Insiya Ujjainwala thinks that concessions, especially allowing three Freedom Caucus members, a far-right leaning caucus,  onto the important  Committee on Rules  “could spell disaster for progressive legislation and Speaker McCarthy’s legitimacy as a leader.”

Despite the amount of time it took, Speaker McCarthy still holds the gavel and has promised to use the power of the purse and the subpoena to advance conservative goals, like investigating the Biden administration and “holding the swamp accountable.” 

Only time will tell how the House upholds this vision and whether the blockage of a few GOP representatives will result in a unique power dynamic.