Kevin McCarthy elected speaker of the House on 15th vote

U.S. House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2021.
U.S. House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2021. | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California finally won the election for Speaker of the House of Representatives early Saturday morning after facing strong resistance from a contingent of conservative members of his party.

McCarthy garnered enough votes on the 15th ballot to become House speaker, marking the first time since 1923 that a speakership election took more than one ballot.

"My father always told me, 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,'" McCarthy told House members for his first speech after winning the top House post. "And now, we need to finish strong for the American people."

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McCarthy directed some of his comments to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who the Democratic members of the lower house consistently supported through all 15 ballots.

"There will be times we agree, and many times we will differ," McCarthy said to Jeffries. "I promise our debates will be passionate, but they will never be personal."

McCarthy noted that "now, the hard work begins." Speaking directly to the nation, he declared that his "ultimate responsibility" is "to our country," not his party or Congress.

"Two months ago, you voted for a new direction for our country," said McCarthy. "You embraced our commitment to America. And now, we're going to keep our commitment to you."

Although McCarthy had been the favorite to win the speakership, he faced considerable opposition from a sizable minority of Republicans who believed he is not going to advance conservative policies or install much-needed changes to House rules.

Notable critics included Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Chip Roy of Texas.

McCarthy got a little over 200 votes on the first several ballots, which was well below the minimum number needed to secure the speakership.

By Friday afternoon, after extensive behind-the-scenes conversations with Republican holdouts, McCarthy saw his vote count increase to 214 votes by the 13th ballot, finally passing Jeffries' usual 212 total.

McCarthy finally prevailed on the 15th ballot with 216 votes, with six Republicans who had opposed him voting "present," which allowed the needed minimum number of votes to lower from the usual 218 requirement.

"Look, the president has called this process an embarrassment, talking heads have labeled this chaos and a mess, and some would call it shambolic even, but it's called democracy," said Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina as he nominated McCarthy on the House floor, as reported by Politico.

"We know it's messy. We know it's messy, but open and transparent debate is what sets us apart from authoritarian regimes."

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