Republican Kevin McCarthy elected as House Speaker in historic 15th round of votes

PTI, Jan 7, 2023, 12:11 PM IST

AFP photo

Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives in a historic post-midnight 15th ballot on Saturday, which elevates him to a powerful position in the chamber and is expected to bring an end to political paralysis that the country has seen for days now.

McCarthy, 57, replaces Nancy Pelosi, 82 of the Democratic Party, which lost the majority in the House after the November 8 midterm elections wherein the Republicans won 222 seats in the 435-member House against 212 of the Democrats.

McCarthy defeated 52-year-old Hakeem Sekou Jeffries by 216 to 212 votes, in the 15th round of votes that went past midnight.

The Republican was able to muster a majority from the lawmakers present on the floor only after six of his party rebels voted present, which brought down the magic number from 218 to 215 votes.

McCarthy becomes 55th House speaker after fifth-longest contest in history. He won the gavel after 15 rounds of voting, making it the longest election for speaker. The longest vote in the US history took place in 1855, lasting 133 rounds over two months.

Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of his fiercest critics and opponents, refused to vote in favour of McCarthy in the 14th round and also in the 15th round. But moved his vote from against McCarthy to present, and so did five other GOP lawmakers.

In the 14th round, there were some last-minute floor negotiations in front of the cameras, wherein McCarthy walked up to Gaetz pleading for his vote. This was followed by some angry exchange of words between supporters of McCarthy and Gaetz.

Congressman Richard Hudson was seen pulling his party colleague Mike Rogers, as he confronted Gaetz, during the 14th round of voting.

In the previous 13 rounds – two of which were held earlier in the day–, McCarthy had some frustrating and embarrassing moments as he was opposed by a group of 20 lawmakers from his own party, mostly from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. It was only in the 12th and 13th rounds that more than a dozen of those GOP naysayers switched their votes.

“Of the more than 50 speakers of the House, 15 have been in McCarthy’s situation: needing multiple elections to win the gavel,” NBC News said, reflecting the historic and unprecedented nature of the election of a House Speaker this year. There have been only four House speaker races that have gone so far in the past.

As a powerful Speaker of the House, McCarthy would be in a key position to play a key role in deciding the national policies, including those related to the budget. In this position, McCarthy is also third in the line of succession after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

McCarthy represents California and previously served as House minority leader. He has already vowed to launch multiple investigations into President Biden and his administration.

The 118th Congress has five Indian Americans as members of the House of Representatives. They are all from the Democratic Party — Dr Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal and Shri Thanedar.

All of them voted for Jeffries in the 14th round of votes.

Meanwhile, Jeffries has made history, becoming the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.

The New York congressman will lead Democrats in the House, succeeding Pelosi, who served as speaker in the prior session of Congress.

Jeffries marks the end of an era – and the start of a new one – for Democrats as he takes up his new position. ”I just look forward to the opportunity to do the most good for the greatest number of people possible for as long as I have the opportunity to do so and can operate at the highest level,” he previously told CNN.

The drama of not electing a speaker has very real consequences. The House cannot conduct any business, including swearing in new members, until a speaker is chosen.

Without a speaker, lawmakers can’t form committees, advance legislation, or participate in intelligence briefings. Friday’s standoff coincides with the second anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, when supporters of then-President Trump breached the building with the aim of stopping Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election in favour of Biden.

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