Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Habemus Dicentis

When the College of Cardinals manages to elect a pope, they make the announcement "Habemus Papum": "We have a pope." It was reader R.F. in Reedsport, OR, who suggested altering that a bit for the headline of this item; "Habemus Dicentis": "We have a speaker." Anyhow, as the old saying goes, "Fifteenth time's the charm." Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) survived 14 inconclusive rounds of balloting to finally be elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives on the fifteenth ballot a little after midnight on Friday.

Here, one last time, is the chart of the votes cast:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Candidate R 1 R 2 R 3 R 4 R 5 R 6 R 7 R 8 R 9 R 10 R 11 R 12 R 13 R 14 R 15
Kevin McCarthy 203 203 202 201 201 201 201 201 200 200 200 213 214 216 216
Hakeem Jeffries 212 212 212 212 212 212 212 212 212 212 212 211 212 212 212
Byron Donalds 1 0 0 20 20 20 19 17 17 13 12 0 0 0 0
Kevin Hern 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 7 7 3 0 0 0
Donald Trump 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Jim Jordan 6 19 20 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 6 2 0
Andy Biggs 10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Jim Banks 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lee Zeldin 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Present 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 2 6

As you can see, despite our skepticism, McCarthy's strategy worked. In the first round of balloting on Friday (12th overall), the majority of the MAGA holdouts, their support secured with various concessions, flipped. This gave McCarthy his first first-place finish. In the final round of balloting (15th overall), the last 6 MAGA holdouts switched their votes to "present," which meant that 216 votes were enough for victory.

So, what did McCarthy give to the insurgents in order to win them over? The answer to that is hazy. First, because the final negotiating took place late in the day on Friday, and so there hasn't been time for reporters to gather all of the available details. Second, because the various parties involved are playing things rather close to the vest, and aren't especially interested in sharing too much information.

That said, it appears that McCarthy has agreed that any one member can bring a motion to vacate the chair. Presumably, enough members of the Republican Conference have agreed that is OK, or the promise wouldn't mean much. The hard-right-wingers will also receive three seats on the House Rules Committee. The practical effect of that is that if the three stick together, and if none of the Democrats on that committee cross party lines, then the MAGA members will have the power to kill any legislation they see fit.

McCarthy has also granted a bunch of concessions regarding the budget. One of those is that there is no budget in place, and a continuing resolution is required, then outlays will be cut by 2% across the board while a full budget is worked out. Another concession is that McCarthy will put forward a budget that will balance itself over the next 10 years. Although these are pretty big promises, they may be less meaningful than they seem, since there are many Republican members of the House who are already rolling their eyes at them. And that's to say nothing of the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.

In addition to the promises made, another thing that is unclear, and that may not be clear for a long time, is whether there were any threats made. For example: "If Friday ends without a speaker being elected, there are enough Republican votes to strip the holdouts of all their committee memberships, and that is what will happen."

It is entirely possible that the gauntlet was thrown down in this way. McCarthy and his allies very clearly thought that they had the speakership locked down on the fourteenth ballot, but Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) maneuvered things such that he was the last person to vote, and that "present" vs. "McCarthy" was the difference between "another round of balloting" and "it's all over." When Gaetz voted "present," numerous Republican members were visibly furious. In fact, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Gaetz nearly came to blows. On the fifteenth ballot, the six holdouts all voted "present," which was good enough for McCarthy's needs, but Gaetz and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) were clearly unhappy while doing so. That duo remained visibly unenthusiastic for the rest of the evening, with their body language doing a lot of talking during the various ceremonial things that took place once the balloting was complete. The overwhelming impression these events gave was that these people did not fall in line willingly.

After a little pomp and pageantry, McCarthy was sworn in and then he swore in the other members of the House. So, the 118th Congress is now fully functional. Or fully dysfunctional, if you prefer. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) gave a very generous and upbeat speech; he's a very good public speaker (view it here, if you wish). That was followed by a speech from the newly minted Speaker (view it here, if you wish). McCarthy isn't as good a speaker as Jeffries is (Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, who made one of the nominating speeches yesterday, is the real star of the Republican conference on that front). Still, McCarthy's speech was also generous and upbeat, though anyone who heard it cannot claim to be surprised at what's coming down the pike in the next 2 years. You might call it "red meat wrapped in velvet."

Once the various ceremonial stuff was over, it was a little late for the House to get down to business. So, they will reconvene Monday afternoon to do things like adopt the rules package that will govern the lower chamber for the next 2 years. And then we will all wait and see how long it is until the next meltdown. Months? Weeks? Days? Your guess is as good as the new Speaker's is (more below). (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates