Republican Kevin McCarthy elected as the speaker of the US House of Representatives early on Saturday after making extensive concessions to a group of right-wing hardliners that raised questions about the party’s ability to govern.
The 57-year-old Californian suffered one final humiliation when Representative Matt Gaetz withheld his vote on the 14th ballot as midnight approached, prompting a scuffle in which fellow Republican Mike Rogers had to be physically pulled away.
McCarthy’s victory on the 15th ballot ended the deepest congressional dysfunction in over 160 years. But it sharply illustrated the difficulties that he would face in leading a narrow and deeply polarized majority.
He won at last on a margin of 216-212. He was able to be elected with the votes of fewer than half the House members only because six in his own party withheld their votes not backing McCarthy as the leader, but also not voting for another contender.
“I’m glad that it’s over,” McCarthy told reporters shortly after the vote.
McCarthy agreed to a demand by hardliners that any lawmaker is able to call for his removal at any time. That will sharply cut the power he will hold when trying to pass legislation on critical issues, including funding the government, addressing the nation’s looming debt ceiling, and other crises that may arise.
“We got the things that are transformational,” said Republican Representative Ralph Norman, who voted to back McCarthy after opposing him for much of the week. Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in November’s midterm elections left them with a narrow 222-212 majority, which has given outsized power to the right-wing hardliners who have opposed McCarthy’s leadership.
Over the past decade, Republicans have repeatedly shut down much of the government and pushed the world’s largest borrower to the brink of default in efforts to extract steep spending cuts, usually without success.
In sharp contrast to this week’s battles among House Republicans, Biden and McConnell appeared together in Kentucky to highlight investments in infrastructure.
McCarthy’s belated victory came the day after the two-year anniversary of a Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, when a violent mob stormed Congress in an attempt to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s election loss.
Earlier This week’s 14 failed votes marked the highest number of ballots for the speakership since 1859, in the turbulent years before the Civil war.
McCarthy’s last bid for speaker, in 2015, crumbled in the face of the right-wing opposition. The two previous Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan left the job after conflict with right-wing colleagues.
Wielding the speaker’s gavel will give McCarthy the authority to block Biden’s legislative agenda, force votes for Republican priorities on the economy, energy, and immigration, and move forward with investigations of Biden, his administration, and his family.