Texans help elect Speaker Kevin McCarthy after late-night votes

Texas Republicans have been key players in the internal party struggle over how party leaders will run the lower house.

WASHINGTON. Texas Republicans helped elect U.S. Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-California, Speaker of the House of Representatives early Saturday morning after four days of bitter infighting within their party that has left Congress in a historic stalemate.

Texans played a central role in the internal party dispute: three Republicans from Texas voted 11 times against McCarthy’s proposal to become speaker, expressing dissatisfaction with the way party leaders handled the Republican conference in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, Republican Austin, has come forward as a leading dissident, sparking impassioned calls for a complete overhaul of House rules that he says will make leadership more accountable. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, and Rep.-elect Keith Self, R-McKinney expressed similar concerns and voted with Roy and a group that started with about 20 anti-McCarthy Republicans.

By Friday afternoon, they reached an agreement with party leaders and voted for McCarthy in exchange for continued negotiations on how to reform the House. Roy was one of the leading negotiators with McCarthy and his allies, and a wave of Republican opponents joined him as he changed his vote. By Friday afternoon, 15 members had voted for McCarthy.

It wasn’t until the 15th Speaker’s vote that enough members voted to give McCarthy a majority in the House and pass the gavel to him.

The House reconvened at 10 p.m. ET Friday night to begin what many Republicans optimistically hoped would be the night’s final vote. The members brought their families to the hall and were enthusiastic as they cast their votes.

But a couple of surprise votes against McCarthy and two votes in attendance gave McCarthy just 216 votes, one short of a win.

The House floor became tense, with party leaders crowding around Representatives Lauren Bobert, Colorado, and Matt Goetz, Florida, who both voted to attend. At one point, Rep. Mike Rogers, D-Alabama, jumped on Gaetz and had to be physically restrained before he fell off the floor.

But Republican leaders were determined to win and refused to call a break for the weekend. In the second ballot, which ran after midnight until Saturday morning, McCarthy won with 216 of 428 votes.

The victory was so small that U.S. Rep.-elect Wesley Hunt, R-Houston, who went home to Texas for Friday morning had to fly back to Hill on Friday afternoon to make sure McCarthy had enough votes. Hunt tweeted that he had gone home to take care of his wife, who had a medical complication after giving birth to their premature newborn earlier this week.

Members initially opposed McCarthy in an attempt to implement a number of priorities laid out by the deeply conservative House Freedom caucus. These measures include allowing a vote to remove the speaker to initiate with one member, a commitment to vote on legislation that balances the federal budget, more time for members to read the law, and a greater role for Freedom Caucus members in party decisions.

“Few people make too many decisions for the American people that undermine the health and well-being of this institution, the country, and the American people,” Roy told reporters. “Today is the chance to change and that’s why we’re here.”

McCarthy is the first speaker election in over a century that required multiple votes. For the first four days, members met in the House for a monotonous series of roll call votes, often with restless jibes and yelling at each other for preventing each other from getting the business of the House of Representatives going. Without a speaker, members could not be sworn in, consider bills, form committees, help voters, or access confidential information.

The Senate was on a long-planned hiatus for most of the debacle, but members of the upper house mused that if the stalemate continued when they returned on January 23, they would have to divert all their attention to confirming appointees.

The Democrats each time voted unanimously for their leader Hakim Jeffreys of New York as speaker, ridiculing the Republicans for not being able to rally around one leader. But McCarthy also ran a powerful operation to get members on board, and several deputies lauded their colleagues to vote for him. A group of Texan Republicans loyal to McCarthy met with their dissenting Texan colleagues to bring them on board on the sidelines of the vote.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, D-Houston, openly criticized the 20 so-called McCarthy rebels, calling them “terrorists” and often accusing them of vested interests.

U.S. House Caucus Rep. Troy Nels, Rep. Richmond, entered the House on Thursday to nominate McCarthy, saying he would be the best person to advance the Freedom Caucus’s deeply conservative agenda.

“Kevin is aware that any legislation he would like to pass outside this chamber will require the support and approval of the Freedom Caucus,” Nels said in the room. “I believe this is where we can hold the speaker accountable.”

In the end, all but six Republicans voted to make McCarthy Speaker.

“This is what government looks like to the people. It’s advisory. It’s the people who are discussing issues,” Cloud told reporters after changing his vote to McCarthy on Thursday. “It’s figuring out how to deal with problems and how to make this place work for the American people.”

But the end of the elections does not mean the end of the struggle of the right. Roy, Cloud, and Self said they would continue to negotiate to fully realize their priorities and ensure management doesn’t stray too far from their promises.

“Our message to Speaker-elect McCarthy is that this structure serves as a template for how we’re going to hold him accountable,” Roy told reporters.

Long before the speaker’s race, McCarthy was voicing points of view to garner support from the party’s right. He signed on to Roy’s pledge to block any Senate Republican priorities, which voted in favor of a bipartisan $1.7 trillion appropriation bill late last year. The Republican leadership of the Senate supported the bill, which means that the position of McCarthy and Roy could put an end to major intra-party infighting between the two chambers over the next two years. He also delivered an eight-hour speech in November 2021 to delay passage of the Democrats’ cornerstone infrastructure, climate and health bill.

But this was not enough to defeat the entire party. House Republicans convened in November to choose their party’s nominee for Speaker. Roy nominated Rep. Andy Biggs, D-Arizona, as an alternative, and Cloud supported his candidacy. Although a large majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for McCarthy, the caucus created a small but vocal resistance camp that delayed the speaker’s vote in the House this week.

Cloud, Roy and Self stated that they had no personal animosity towards McCarthy and had little sympathy for alternative candidates. Throughout the marathon, the three votes switched places with U.S. Representatives Byron Donalds, Florida, and Jim Jordan, Ohio, to voice their disagreement with McCarthy. Roy and Cloud were spotted Thursday flying between the floor of the House of Representatives and the office of Republican Tom Emmer, where they spent hours working their way forward with McCarthy allies.

This was in contrast to the other dissenters, who were ridiculed by the rest of the conference for basically only acting to put on a show. All dissenters united on the first day of voting on Tuesday, rallying around Jordan, but by Thursday some began to nominate far less plausible candidates. Gaetz nominated former President Donald Trump as speaker (the speaker does not have to be a member of Congress). The group began to be referred to as Camp “Never Kevin” and as time went on the reception in the cell became more chilly.

“It’s become clear to me that a few people are just obstructionists, more interested in self-promotion than restoring the Republic,” Self said in a statement after voting for McCarthy.

McCarthy did not immediately support the demands of the right. One of the last positions on which he moved was to reduce the number of members required to express a vote of confidence in the speaker, a rule that contributed to the termination of the powers of speaker John Boehner.

And not everyone in the party was enthusiastic about the changes. Crenshaw said that many in the party do not like measures such as lowering the voting threshold when vacating the seat and opening the seat completely to amendments, which could potentially lead to an endless debate.

“And you have to remember that the Democrats can do the same and stop our business. For example, I don’t think they’re thinking through some of these things,” Crenshaw said. “There is an honest debate about each of them. But my question to them is always this: Is this really a hill to die on?”

Democrats, in particular, were unhappy with the rule changes and the general chaos between aisles. They saw McCarthy’s mediation not as a prudent change to ensure good governance, but as a further slide of the Republican Party into right-wing extremism.

Friday’s voting round also coincided with the second anniversary of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which was fueled by campaign conspiracy theories promoted by some members united against McCarthy, including U.S. Representatives Paul Gosar, R-Arizona and Scott Perry, PA. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso alluded to the attack on Friday when she was nominating Jeffreys.

“I shudder at the thought of what it would have meant on that day for the inability of the Republican majority to govern the country. And what this could mean for the future for those of us who believe in defending our democracy,” Escobar said on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Texas Tribune is an impartial, non-profit media organization that informs and engages with Texans about public policy, politics, government, and national issues.

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