On Saturday morning at 0.27 a.m. the time has come. Cheers and applause from Republicans in the House Chamber. The ballot isn't quite over yet, but Kevin McCarthy has finally got his votes together. Group colleagues congratulate him, press and hug him. Right-wing MP Marjorie Taylor Greene is beaming. McCarthy waves, thumbs up.
Now it is clear: Californian McCarthy, 57, will be the new Speaker of the House of Representatives (“Speaker”) and thus the third most powerful American politician after the President and Vice President. Shortly thereafter, the chairwoman announces: 216 votes for McCarthy in ballot 15. For the Democrat Hakeem Jeffries 212 votes. Six abstentions.
It is the end of a four-day election marathon - and the symbolic sign of the new Republican majority in the Congress Chamber. The Republicans have 222 MPs in the House, the Democrats 212. The majority was 218 votes.
McCarthy's success was preceded by another defeat and chaotic scenes on Friday evening. The Republicans nominated McCarthy, the Democrats their faction leader Hakeem Jeffries. Only four Republicans voted for other candidates in this 14th round of voting - two days earlier 20 had done so. For example, right-wing gun nut Lauren Boebert abstained.
The right-wing Trump disciple Matt Gaetz did the same. Cheers broke out among the Republicans – in the naïve hope that McCarthy would have enough this time. McCarthy himself looked shocked. He knew that this wasn't enough. With an angry expression, clearly upset, McCarthy made the pilgrimage to Gaetz in the penultimate row of the plenum and talked to him.
He apparently asked Gaetz to subsequently change his vote from one abstention to one vote in favor of McCarthy. Minutes of uncertainty, irritation among the Democrats. A scuffle broke out between two Republican lawmakers on January 6 of all days, two years after a pro-Trump mob rampaged through this chamber. Gaetz remained stubborn and stuck to his abstention.
The Republicans loudly roared their request to adjourn the session. When they also missed the majority for this, the parliamentary group leadership signaled: Convert votes. Suddenly, McCarthy and his people called for a 15th ballot.
Now even the last McCarthy critics gave in and abstained instead of voting for a third candidate. Trump also played his part in this, he called at least two McCarthy critics late in the evening. For the first time in a long time, McCarthy appeared relaxed and gave the young employee sitting next to him a friendly nudge. He even allowed himself a yawn. By then it was past midnight, early Saturday morning.
For half a week, around 20 party friends thwarted McCarthy's march to the post of speaker. Again and again they voted for completely hopeless counting candidates. Even Donald Trump was nominated on Thursday and received one vote. The message: just not McCarthy. The insurgents let themselves be called “Never-Kevins”. As late as Friday afternoon, Matt Gaetz, rarely at a loss for big words and bold theses, predicted: "Mr. McCarthy doesn't have enough votes today." And: "He won't have enough votes tomorrow, and he won't have enough next week, next month, next year have votes.”
Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. McCarthy, an experienced professional politician, managed to pacify internal opponents with concessions - and thus secure the leap to the long-awaited position of power. In any case, McCarthy should not be accused of a lack of nerves of steel, stamina and negotiating skills. One of the concessions McCarthy made is a change in the House's rules of procedure: in the future, a single MP should apply for the speaker's dismissal, not five - which McCarthy originally offered as a compromise.
In addition, the Republican faction wing Freedom Caucus, which had thwarted McCarthy's election for days, is to provide a third of the members of the powerful Rules of Procedure Committee. This body determines when which laws are debated in the plenary session.
In terms of content, the right-wing Republicans, who were once critical of McCarthy, are promoting a balanced budget and complaining about the Biden government's borrowing. The fact that their idol Donald Trump, as President, increased the debt level of the USA by almost seven trillion dollars (and thus by a third) is neglected in their argumentation.
Critics accuse McCarthy of having weakened not only himself but also his office and the entire House by making numerous concessions to his – at times – unruly party friends. The fact that ex-President Trump reportedly campaigned for McCarthy in direct telephone calls with MPs on Friday gives him the reputation of being dependent on Trump's favor. McCarthy had ensnared Trump for years. His support at the beginning of the election process, on the other hand, was extremely soft.
Only after the successful speaker election can the house begin its actual work, form committees and pass bills. As of Friday, members of the House of Representatives had not even been sworn in. In the Senate, the second chamber, the constitution ran smoothly this week. The Democrats still have a slim majority here. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, is the first pro tempore Senate President to be a woman.
After McCarthy's election, US President Joe Biden signaled his willingness to cooperate. "I'm willing to work with Republicans if I can," Democrat Biden said. It is time "to govern responsibly and to make sure we put the interests of American families first," he added. Voters made it clear that they "expect Republicans to be just as willing to work with me," Trump said.