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Kevin McCarthy Becomes Speaker After Late-Night Drama With Holdout Matt Gaetz

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


California Republican Kevin McCarthy finally managed to become Speaker for the newly elected Republican House majority following some late-night drama involving Matt Gaetz after the GOP lawmaker from Florida voted “present,” initially denying McCarthy’s victory by a single vote.

“It took a loss by a razor-thin margin in a late-night Round 14, a heated exchange with one of his sternest opponents, and a near-adjournment of the House till Monday to break a logjam unseen since before the Civil War,” the Associated Press reported after the 15th round of balloting.

“The final tally that put him over the top: 216 for McCarthy, 212 for Democrat leader Hakeem Jeffries and 6 simply ‘present,'” the outlet reported.

A video clip of a frustrated McCarthy confronting Gaetz after his first “present” went viral online late Friday:

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The newswire noted further:

All day Friday, McCarthy had been inching ever closer to taking up the gavel as he won over multiple diehard conservative critics and resistors. McCarthy, who flipped 15 colleagues to supporters in dramatic votes on Friday afternoon, returned to the chamber at 10 p.m. ET with hopes high that he’d woo enough additional hardliners to put him over the top.

But then came a surprising loss, with him snagging 216 votes, just one shy of the 217 needed to get a House majority afterh two colleagues, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, merely voted “present.”

What followed was some extraordinary drama, as McCarthy and Gaetz appeared to exchange sharp words on the House floor. A vote to adjourn till Monday was quickly introduced, but was then walked back as supporters did a U-turn and rescinded votes. 

Some Republicans said the drama was worth it to secure a better rules package agreement regarding power from McCarthy.

“This is a really good rules package, and it’s good that we negotiated this for our system of government, and it’s great for the American people,” said Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.). “If we’re going to have self-government, we’ve got to show this” to the public.”

She also said she did not agree with Gaetz’s continuing to hold out support for McCarthy.

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“I disagree with his position” of refusing to support McCarthy. “But that’s OK. We’re still going to be friends tomorrow after this is all said and done,” she said.

“There’s a point in time where you’ve got to give up on your position — after getting everything you want. … At that point, you’re not really negotiating. You’re more of a hostage-taker,” she noted further.

Earlier Friday, Gaetz threatened to resign from Congress if moderate Republicans struck a deal with Democrats to elect their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, or help elect McCarthy over the objections of House conservatives.

But that said, the Florida Republican also expressed confidence that all 212 Democrats would continue voting for Jeffries to be speaker after selecting him to become the leader of the party, replacing Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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“These 212 Democrats are going to vote for Hakeem Jeffries every single time. He’s a historic candidate. They’re not going to cleave off,” Gaetz told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on Thursday.

“If Democrats join up to elect a moderate Republican, I will resign,” Gaetz said, going on to note that no amount of concessions would get him to support McCarthy.

“He’s the masthead of the lobby core. I resent to which Kevin McCarthy utilizes the lobbyists and the special interests to be able to dictate how political decisions are made. How policy decisions are made, how leadership decisions are made. Kevin McCarthy has been in the leadership for 14 years. He’s sold shares of himself to special interests, to political action committees, and that’s why I don’t think he’s right,” Gaetz added.

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He also said he believes that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) could get enough votes to become speaker if McCarthy were to bow out.

“If Kevin McCarthy got out of this race, Jim Jordan would get into it,” Gaetz said. “And I believe he would win and invigorate our movement. He’s broadly trusted in every corner of the Republican Party and with a lot of our donors and supporters and activists. That’s the type of option if McCarthy bows out.”

But if the California Republican does wind up with the position, he “have to live the entirety of his speakership in a straitjacket constructed by the rules that we’re working on now,” Gaetz said.

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