Chaos in the House: McCarthy’s Plea and Begging for Votes

Chaos in the House: McCarthy’s Plea and Begging for Votes

It was the extraordinary moment that brought House Republicans to the brink — and ultimately the moment they found their way back.

Just one vote away from becoming speaker of the House, California Republican Kevin McCarthy stood from his chair and walked down the aisle to the back of the chamber. It was approaching midnight and he had already lost 13 votes for speaker over four long days. The room fell almost completely silent as it became clear that the GOP leader was now begging — begging, really — bombastic, flamboyant, defiant Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz to change his vote from “current” to “McCarthy.”

Gaetz, who had hurled personal insults at McCarthy just hours earlier on the House floor, said no.

McCarthy walked slowly back down the aisle, alone, head tilted to the ground. But he turned when he heard an argument behind him. Alabama Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican ally of McCarthy, had angrily confronted Gaetz and told him he would regret the decision. Lawmakers on the floor shouted in disbelief as Rogers was restrained by a colleague.

McCarthy stepped back to make sure the argument was over, then returned to his chair, defeated.

He lost the 14th vote. The Allies moved to adjourn the House abruptly, and their hopes of unity seemingly fell apart.

Then tempers cooled. And within an hour, McCarthy and his allies had persuaded his other remaining opponents to vote “present” as well, reducing the number of votes needed for McCarthy to win and handing him the podium early Saturday morning – after a historic, remarkable and somewhat astonishing week of repeat votes.

“I hope one thing is clear,” McCarthy said when he finally took the hammer after 1 o’clock. “I never give up.”

The chaos on the House floor came exactly two years after the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. During a late-night session following that attack, McCarthy called it the “saddest day I’ve ever had” as a member of Congress. In the days that followed, McCarthy accused then-President Donald Trump of emboldening his supporters who attacked the building and canceled the certification of President Joe Biden. But just weeks later, McCarthy traveled to see Trump in Florida and made amends.

The scene Friday was a different kind of chaos — but it was a full-circle moment for Republicans, who had ceded both chambers of Congress and the presidency to Democrats after the violent uprising. While many of them denounced Trump at the time, McCarthy’s Florida visit brought him back into the fold, and the former president worked the phones Friday night, calling Gaetz and the other holdouts.

“He was with me from the beginning,” McCarthy said after the final vote, also noting Trump’s phone calls.

While the US House is often violent, this week’s events were almost surreal: vote after vote, defeat after defeat, and finally success after picking off seemingly implacable opponents.

McCarthy needed two more votes to enter Friday night’s count, which did not begin until 10 p.m., late enough to give two of his supporters — one whose wife had given birth that week and another who was ill — time to return to Washington. McCarthy and his allies appeared confident heading in, but as the votes ticked away, it became clear he would be a short one.

Two of McCarthy’s closest lieutenants, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry and Louisiana Representative Garrett Graves, sat on either side of Gaetz during the vote, with Graves at one point on his knees. But Gaetz could only be partially swayed, standing to say “present” when the roll call reached his name. That wasn’t enough, and McCarthy approached him just before the vote was called, C-SPAN cameras tracking his brief journey.

Gaetz pointed angrily at McCarthy during the call. But Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, a McCarthy supporter standing nearby, said the exchange between the two men was pleasant and that McCarthy was only asking him to change his vote. Gaetz said his “current” vote was as far as he wanted, Buck said.

McCarthy said afterward that Gaetz eventually “got everybody there to the point that nobody voted against me,” and persuaded some of his fellow colleagues to vote “present” as well. In the end, no Republicans voted against McCarthy.

They wanted to “make this conference united and work together,” McCarthy said.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Farnoush Amiri and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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