After four days and 15 ballots, Republican Kevin McCarthy finally secured enough votes to become the 55th speaker of the House after making concessions demanded by some of the most fiscally conservative members of Congress.
Finally winning the gavel after a dramatic two rounds of voting on Friday night and into Saturday morning and a near-scuffle on the House floor, Mr. McCarthy, 57, planned to immediately swear in the 434 lawmakers present in the chamber.
The lawmakers have been waiting since the opening day of Congress on Tuesday to take the oath of office and begin their two-year terms but have been blocked from starting officially until the speaker was elected.
Mr. McCarthy won on a second round of late-night votes after negotiating for days with what began as a group of 20 conservative holdouts.
The holdout faction shrunk by more than half by Friday and Mr. McCarthy confidently predicted he’d have the votes when the House reconvened late Friday night.
But on the first Friday night ballot, Mr. McCarthy fell one vote short, leading to a tense session of arm-twisting on the House floor.
Several of the remaining conservative holdouts voted “present,” which helped Mr. McCarthy’s tally – but not enough for him to win.
Finally, on the second round, and the 15th ballot in four days, Mr. McCarthy crossed the majority threshold to raucous cheers from the GOP side of the chamber.
The House now plans to vote on a thick rules package that includes some significant changes on how the chamber will operate from the days when Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was in charge.
The new provisions came at the behest of a group of 20 conservative Republicans who want their faction to have a bigger say in the GOP agenda and to play more important roles on prominent committees.
Among the biggest changes Mr. McCarthy agreed to in the rules package is one that would reinstate a centuries-old rule that allows one lawmaker to call up a vote to eject the speaker.
The rules also will not allow proxy voting, which had been approved by the previously Democratic-led Congress since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Mr. McCarthy has already instructed Capitol workers to haul away the metal detectors Mrs. Pelosi had installed on the doors to the House chamber at the behest of Democrats who were worried that gun-toting Republicans might harm them.
Mr. McCarthy has signed off on a long list of pledges to the holdouts about the way Republicans will operate legislatively in the 118th Congress.
In addition to having more power to eject a speaker, conservatives won seats on key committees, including the powerful Rules panel, which sets the terms for debating bills on the House floor.
Mr. McCarthy also agreed on a series of changes to how the House GOP will consider spending packages and legislation to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
According to a copy of the promises made by Mr. McCarthy and obtained by The Washington Times, Republicans will adopt a fiscal 2024 budget resolution ”that balances within 10 years,” and includes long-term reforms to both the budget process and mandatory spending programs.
It would cap spending at 2022 levels.
Some of the pledges made to the holdouts by Mr. McCarthy drew immediate scorn from others in the GOP conference.
The spending cuts would also hit defense budgets, for example, and Republicans outside of the group of holdouts have already warned such reductions would be a nonstarter with House appropriators, who write the spending bills.
The pledges to the conservatives may make it difficult for the GOP-led House to pass the 12 appropriations measures that fund the federal government or to strike the typically last-minute, House-Senate agreements on combined spending packages that keep the government from running out of money.
The promises to the holdouts also include stipulations for raising the nation’s borrowing limit as well. A debt ceiling increase, Mr. McCarthy pledged, would require a budget agreement that caps growth in federal spending.
Mr. McCarthy on Friday brushed off concerns that the House GOP would struggle to function following the infighting over the speaker’s gavel and the new rules giving the holdout conservatives greater powers.
He told reporters the infighting helped the party work out its differences.
“This is the great part,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters. “Because it took this long, now we learned how to govern.”
Mr. McCarthy’s rise to speaker required more ballots than any lawmaker since before the Civil War and kept the House in a state of opening-day limbo since Tuesday.
The fight at times took a bitter turn, both on and off the House floor.
One of Mr. McCarthy’s chief Republican opponents, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, delivered scathing speeches denouncing him and later crashed closed-door negotiations between Mr. McCarthy and other conservative holdouts.
Mr. Gaetz accused Mr. McCarthy of “squatting” in the speaker’s office and complained about it to the Capitol Architect’s office.
After Mr. McCarthy lost the 14th ballot on Friday night, a group of increasingly frustrated GOP lawmakers closed in on Mr. Gaetz, who had voted “present,” to try to convince him to vote for Mr. McCarthy and the talks appeared on the verge of getting physical.
At one point Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican, moved in close to Mr. Gaetz and was physically pulled back by Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican.
By late Friday, Republicans were doing all they could to put a positive spin on the days of infighting and public floor battles and the moratorium it caused that crippled the new Congress.
“It may have felt like Congress was on hold,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican who nominated Mr. McCarthy on the final ballot, said. “But the alternative, a government that assembles with no input from the representatives, elected by the people, is a far worse alternative.”
He concluded that Mr. McCarthy “has allowed this process to work among House Republicans, and he’s empowered members to come together to find consensus on behalf of conservative policy, and a greater involvement of all voices throughout our conference.”