The US House of Representatives elected California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader since 2019, as Speaker on Saturday after a historic deadlock that kept the lower chamber from being fully functional days after the new Congress convened.
McCarthy clinched enough votes to become House speaker in the 15th round of voting — the longest contest in 164 years — after a bitter fight with a group of 20 hardline Republican conservatives and 14 failed ballots in a row, reports Xinhua news agency.
This was the first time a House speaker — who maintains order, manages its proceedings, and governs the administration of its business on the lower chamber’s floor — had not been elected on the first ballot since 1860 in the build-up to the American Civil War, when the US’ union was fraying over the issue of slavery.
Back then it took 44 rounds of ballots.
President Joe Biden said earlier this week that it is “embarrassing for the country” not to have a fully functional Congress, the legislature of the federal government.
Meanwhile, all House Democrats voted for Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York, making him the minority leader and the first African-American lawmaker to run a party in either chamber of Congress.
To flip Republican holdouts, McCarthy reportedly made a series of concessions, including a lower threshold to force a vote on ousting the House speaker and a floor vote on a border security bill.
He also promised that efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling must be paired with spending cuts.
Speaking after his confirmation, McCarthy wrote on Twitter: “I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up. And I will never give up for you, the American people.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, also a New York Democrat, responded to the alleged concessions after McCarthy’s election, saying the proposals “will cause a government shutdown or a default with devastating consequences to our country”.
“Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s dream job could turn into a nightmare for the American people,” Schumer said. “To get the votes, he surrendered to demands of a fringe element of the Republican party.”
Friday was the first day that McCarthy’s vote count actually surpassed that of Jeffries.
In November 8, 2022 midterm elections, Republicans won the House by a weaker-than-expected margin of 222 to 212.
Democrats retained control of the Senate.
The Speaker of the House is the second in line to the presidency, after the Vice President.