September 28, 2023

After a stunning turn of events Friday night that forced a 15th ballot in the race for House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, finally secured enough votes shortly after midnight to become speaker of the House.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., smiles after winning the 15th vote in the House chamber as the House enters the fifth day trying to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.

Alex Brandon / AP

His victory followed four days of voting and persistent negotiations with far-right members of the Republican conference, who kept a win at bay until the 15th round of voting. The selection of a speaker finally paved the way for those elected in November to take their oaths of office and the House to organize. The chamber is set to vote Monday to adopt a rules package governing the 118th Congress, which includes some of the concessions made by McCarthy in talks with conservative holdouts.

APTOPIX Congress
Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., holds the gavel after accepting it from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of N.Y., on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.

Andrew Harnik / AP

McCarthy won 216-212, convincing enough of his GOP colleagues who had voted against him to support his bid. The six remaining Republicans who withheld their support for McCarthy up to the final ballot — Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Eli Crane of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia and Matt Rosendale of Montana — voted present. 

“Therefore, the Honorable Kevin McCarthy of the state of California, having received a majority of the votes cast, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives,,” House clerk Cheryl Johnson declared at 12:38 a.m. as she read the final vote count.

Chants of “USA, USA!” broke out in the House chamber. Republicans broke out in raucous applause, and Rep. Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, embraced McCarthy, as the final Republican in the alphabetical roll call, Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke of Montana, cast his vote.

A victory for McCarthy on Friday night had suddenly seemed out of reach after he lost the 14th round by a single vote. Gaetz voted “present” at the last minute, and McCarthy needed his vote. Gaetz’s vote angered some of his colleagues, including GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, who was physically restrained from charging Gaetz by Rep. Richard Hudson. 

APTOPIX Congress
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., left, pulls Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., back as they talk with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and other during the 14th round of voting for speaker as the House meets for the fourth day to try and elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. At right is Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

Andrew Harnik / AP

The move by Gaetz, and McCarthy’s failure to claim the gavel again, left the chamber on the cusp of an adjournment for the weekend, with Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina offering a motion to halt the proceedings for the day and adjourn. But just as Republicans appeared to have enough votes to do so, commotion ensued on the floor, and Republicans rushed to change their votes to hold another round. McCarthy told his GOP colleagues to take their seats for “one more time.” 

The 15th ballot proved to seal the win for McCarthy, who has risen through the ranks of GOP leadership and led the conference as minority leader during the past four years of Democratic House control. McCarthy’s wife, Judy, looked on from the gallery during the vote. 

McCarthy began chipping away at the deficit in votes against him Friday morning in the first vote, when 14 Republicans switched their votes from another GOP nominee or “present” to McCarthy. That was also the first vote in which the California Republican earned more votes than Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries. 

McCarthy and his allies then focused on trying to sway the remaining holdouts, and waiting for Republicans who had left town for medical and family emergency reasons to return to Washington, D.C. 

What got Kevin McCarthy over the hump?


The race made history, requiring the most ballots in over 150 years to successfully elect a speaker. 

McCarthy succeeds Nancy Pelosi, who served as speaker twice, in 2007 and in 2019. 

To win enough support, McCarthy had to make a number of concessions he had said he wouldn’t consider earlier this week. He agreed to allow a single member to call for a vote of no confidence in the speaker, and he agreed to give the House Freedom Caucus three seats on the House Rules Committee, a key panel that shapes legislation before it receives a vote on the floor. 

Eventually, the ability for a single member to spark an attempt to take down McCarthy could come back to haunt the newly minted speaker. 

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