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The House Speaker Battle’s Dramatic Conclusion
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The House Speaker Battle’s Dramatic Conclusion

After 15 ballots and multiple rumored concessions, Kevin McCarthy wins the speakership.

Happy Monday! Attention all 57 year olds and 27 year olds (Declan) with the musical taste of 57 year olds: Peter Gabriel released the lead single off his first new album in 20 years, and it rocks.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • One week after leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as Brazil’s president, thousands of supporters of right-wing former President Jair Bolsonaro’s stormed and trashed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace in Brasília, seeking to either restore Bolsonaro to power or remove Lula. Bolsonaro never formally conceded the race, and his party’s efforts to overturn the election results failed in court. Security officials seem to have been caught off guard by the riots, but had begun to get the situation under control by Sunday evening, arresting hundreds of people. Bolsonaro had told his supporters to avoid violence last week before leaving the country for Florida, but issued only a muted condemnation of yesterday’s violence: “Peaceful demonstrations, within the law, are part of democracy,” he tweeted. “But depredations and invasions of public buildings like we saw today, like the acts done by the left in 2013 and 2017, are not within the rules.” The leader of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party said the rioters “do not represent” the former president.
  • The House of Representatives voted 216-212 early Saturday morning to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy speaker, bringing an end to four days of drama on the 15th ballot—making the race the fifth-longest in American history. To end the impasse, the six remaining Republican “Never Kevins”—including Reps. Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Andy Biggs—opted to vote “present” rather than for an alternative candidate, lowering the number of votes McCarthy needed to receive a majority. The House will reconvene later today after adjourning over the weekend to vote on the rules package that will govern the 118th Congress.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 223,000 jobs in December, down from November’s 256,000 revised figure but still slightly above the pre-pandemic average and surpassing economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate ticked down from 3.6 percent to 3.5 percent as the labor force participation rate remained relatively unchanged at 62.3 percent. Average hourly earnings—a key measure for hints on inflation—were up 4.6 percent year-over-year, slowing from November’s 5.1 percent annual rate. Stocks surged Friday, with investors expecting the cooling labor market will slow the pace of future Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.
  • The European Union’s statistics agency reported Friday the annual rate of inflation in the Eurozone fell for the second consecutive month in December, dropping from 10.1 percent to 9.2 percent. Core inflation—which strips out food and energy prices—still rose to a new high of 5.2 percent, meaning the month-over-month declines are driven largely by falling gas prices and underlying inflationary pressures continue to exist.
  • The Irish Data Protection Commission announced last week it had fined Meta 390 million euros (~$415 million) for effectively forcing users to agree to personalized ads in order to use Facebook and Instagram. The regulatory body gave the social media company three months to come into compliance with European Union data privacy laws, steps that could materially hamper Meta’s advertising business.
  • German law enforcement officials announced Sunday they had detained a 32-year-old Iranian man in Western Germany after receiving a tip from U.S. security officials that he could be planning a chemical attack. The suspect has not yet been charged with a crime, and police said they found no cyanide or ricin in his apartment.
  • Iranian authorities executed two men by hanging over the weekend, allegedly for stabbing and killing a member of the Basij militia security force during anti-regime protests in early November. The men—22- and 39-years old—are the third and fourth Iranians known to have received the death penalty in connection with demonstrations over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.
  • The Chinese Communist Party reopened mainland China’s border with Hong Kong on Sunday, ending nearly three years of restrictions and mandatory quarantines intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. Travelers will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within 48 hours of their crossing, and daily crossings will be capped at 60,000 in each direction to start. China also ended its quarantine requirements for all incoming travelers yesterday, dismantling the last vestiges of its COVID-zero policies.
  • The U.S. 7th Fleet announced last week the USS Chung-Hoon sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, conducting what the Navy labeled a routine transit “in accordance with international law” and a spokesman for China’s U.S. embassy called an escalatory provocation.
  • The Australian government announced Thursday it is purchasing new missile and rocket systems—including the U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Norwegian-made Naval Strike Missiles—in an effort to boost the country’s defense and deter threats to its national security.
  • The Mexican military captured one of the sons of former Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in northern Mexico on Thursday, three years after he was captured and subsequently released following threats of cartel violence. Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Luis Crescencio Sandoval said 10 military personnel were killed and 35 more were wounded in the raid, while 19 cartel members were killed and 21 arrested. A federal judge in Mexico City temporarily halted the extradition of Ovidio Guzmán to the United States, where he is wanted on drug trafficking charges.
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday it had granted accelerated approval to Leqembi—a new drug from Eisai and Biogen—for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug—which comes with risks of side effects like brain bleeding and swelling—was found in an early study to reduce levels of brain amyloid plaque in patients with mild dementia. Eisai said the drug will be commercially available later this month, and priced at $26,500 per year.
  • A panel of three federal judges ruled Friday that South Carolina lawmakers must redraw the state’s congressional map after finding “race was the predominant factor” in creating its 1st Congressional District, which GOP Rep. Nancy Mace won by 14 percentage points in 2022. The judges held that Charleston County was racially gerrymandered in the redistricting process after the 2020 election, removing more than 30,000 black voters from the district to make it a safer seat for Republicans. Mace won her race by 1.2 percentage points in 2020.
  • Retired GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina announced Friday the Securities and Exchange Commission had closed an investigation into a series of stock sales he made in early 2020 as the pandemic hit without filing charges or taking further action. “I am glad to have this matter in the rearview mirror,” Burr said.

McCarthy Catches the Car

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 07: Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) celebrates with the gavel after being elected as Speaker of the House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“If we row in the same cadence together, there is no obstacle this body can overcome for this nation.”

To be fair to Kevin McCarthy, it was after 1:30 a.m. and the end of arguably the most grueling week of his life. But the verbal slip-up—which came about 23 minutes into an address delivered from the House rostrum—could prove a punch line for the ages if the next two years unfold the way many lawmakers believe they will.

After four days and 14 rounds of voting, McCarthy finally reached the top of the mountain early Saturday morning, convincing enough of his GOP colleagues to vote for him to serve as speaker of the House—or at least not vote against him. 

The tide began to turn for the California Republican on Thursday evening. With panic starting to set in after 11 ballots that saw his support tick down from 203 votes to 200, McCarthy kicked his efforts to woo the holdouts into overdrive, pulling out all the remaining stops and reaching a deal with Rep. Chip Roy that delivered 14 additional votes over the first two rounds of balloting on Friday. But even with a few lawmakers missing, that still left McCarthy a few votes short of the reduced threshold he needed to secure the gavel.

He was certain that would be his final losing effort. “Yes, I’ll have the votes,” he told reporters asking if he was confident he’d be speaker by the end of the day. How did he know? “Because I count.”

He counted wrong. Although two of those missing lawmakers—GOP Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Wesley Hunt of Texas—returned to Washington Friday night after leaving to deal with medical and family issues, McCarthy still needed to convince two of the remaining six “no” votes to support him, or three of the six to vote “present.” Neither happened, with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida purposely missing his alphabetical roll call vote so it could all come down to him at the end. “Present,” he said, causing Republicans to leap to their feet in applause. It didn’t sink in for another minute or two that “present” wasn’t enough.

That’s when things really started to get heated, live on CSPAN for all the world to see. McCarthy—who’d tried to remain above the fray over the course of the week and let his allies lead negotiations—got up and walked directly over to where Gaetz was sitting next to another holdout, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado. The chamber fell silent as the prospective speaker, looking exasperated, pleaded with two of his biggest detractors to cooperate. There was a lot of angry pointing—and a late-arriving Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama had to be restrained from lunging at Gaetz (he later apologized)—but McCarthy returned to his seat dejected, prepared to adjourn until Monday in the hopes of peeling off his last remaining critics over the weekend.

But then Donald Trump started making calls. As the House clerk tallied the vote everyone in the chamber knew was insufficient, the former president reportedly dialed up Gaetz and fellow holdout Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona. A photojournalist in the chamber captured a picture of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene holding an iPhone—with a “DT” on the line—up to the ear of Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana. Although Trump’s multiple endorsements of McCarthy over the past few months had thus far failed to move the needle with any of the “Never Kevins,” something he said Saturday morning—in combination with McCarthy’s myriad concessions—seemed to do the trick: All six voted “present” on ballot 15, allowing McCarthy to secure the speaker’s gavel with 216 votes to Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ 212.

“That was easy, huh?” McCarthy joked after banging that gavel for the first time. “My father always told me, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ And now we need to finish strong for the American people.” After taking the oath of office himself, McCarthy swore in all 434 members-elect en masse, and sent everyone on their way just before the clock struck 2 a.m. Given the hour, he and Majority Leader Steve Scalise punted on passing the package of rules that will govern the chamber, delaying vote until this evening.

But as Harvest and Price noted last week, there’s a very real chance Republicans struggle to secure the 218 votes they need to pass it. McCarthy made a number of concessions to GOP hardliners as the week wore on, and while one of them—a significantly lower threshold to force a vote on ousting the speaker—made it into a draft rules package that was circulated last week, the rest are less formal, forged in backroom deals and handshake agreements.

A few details have begun to trickle out, but unless a lawmaker was party to these handshake agreements, odds are they’re still mostly in the dark about them. “No one really knows,” Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Florida Republican, told The Dispatch on Friday. “Whoever told you anything [is] lying. Because we have not been informed officially what it is they negotiated.”

That doesn’t seem to have changed over the weekend. “We don’t have any idea what promises were made,” Rep. Mace, a relative moderate from South Carolina, told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan on Sunday. “That is just what Nancy Pelosi does. And that’s not what they should be doing.” Asked if she was planning to vote against the rules package, Mace said she was “considering that as an option.”

What kind of changes are these lawmakers worried about? For some, it’s Freedom Caucus types using their leverage last week to (reportedly) circumvent the Steering Committee to secure plum committee or subcommittee assignments of their own that might otherwise go to more senior or leadership-friendly lawmakers. Seats on the powerful Rules Committee—which controls what bills make it to the floor and when—are particularly valuable. “[The Freedom Caucus] should be represented like all the other caucuses, but they shouldn’t have more than other members have,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York told Harvest and Price last week.

In addition to committee assignments, a rumored agreement to cap fiscal year 2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels—a move that could effectively reduce projected defense spending by $75 billion—is also setting off alarm bells. “This has a proposed billions-of-dollar cut to defense, which I think is a horrible idea, when you have aggressive Russia in Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific,” GOP Rep. Tony Gonzalez of Texas said yesterday, making clear he will vote against the rules package. “I’m going to visit Taiwan here in a couple of weeks. How am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, ‘I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?’”

Finally, lawmakers have also expressed concerns—publicly and privately—about how a McCarthy-led house will handle the impending standoff over the debt ceiling. The country isn’t projected to bump up against its borrowing limit until this summer at the earliest, but if Democrats won’t agree to the spending cuts Republicans demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, the word “default” will start getting thrown around a lot. 

While some of McCarthy’s concessions will be unpopular with non-hardliners, plenty of other rumored changes will have wider Republican appeal: A minimum of 72 hours to review legislation, for example, or the creation of a subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government.” And with a Democrat in the White House, McCarthy has reportedly promised to hold entirely symbolic votes on congressional term limits, a GOP border security plan, and balancing the budget over the next decade. McCarthy has also supposedly agreed to do away with top-down omnibus spending bills, instead taking up 12 appropriations bills over the course of the year and allowing lawmakers to both debate them and offer amendments. 

Rep. Chip Roy, who led the charge for many of those changes, took a little victory lap over the weekend. “We wanted rules to open this place up. We wanted more transparency. We wanted more openness, more ability to add amendments to the floor,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper yesterday. “A little temporary conflict is necessary in this town in order to stop this town from rolling over the American people.”

But other lawmakers are worried the conflict is only beginning. “The speaker vote is the easiest vote we’ll take in Congress, and it was pretty chaotic,” Gonzalez said. “The rules package is the next easiest vote. Look, the House of Representatives is a rough and rowdy place. Anybody that watched C-SPAN this week got to see it firsthand.”

Worth Your Time

  • The consequences of McCarthy’s concessions will be felt far beyond the next two years, Yuval Levin hopes. The contours of the speakership fight “already offer an important lesson,” he writes for National Review. “If the members opposing McCarthy end up with seats on the Rules Committee, they will have shown that applying pressure in vulnerable moments can create opportunities for structural change in the House. They don’t seem to agree on a broad vision of what such change should look like. But a faction of members who did share such a vision could really advance some significant and much-needed reforms—of the budget process, the committee system, the role of the leadership, and more. The history of the Congress has been shaped by periods of frustration that are ultimately broken by bursts of reform. It’s hard to shake the feeling that such a burst, although it’s not yet here, is imminent. But it will take a little more frustration to get there, and this Congress looks likely to provide it.”
  • CBS invited discredited biologist Paul Ehrlich to join 60 Minutes last week, leading Noah Smith to devote an edition of his Noahpinion newsletter to explaining why biologist Paul Ehrlich is discredited. In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted hundreds of millions of people would starve to death over the next 10 years. “Obviously, nothing like this ever happened,” Smith writes. “But why? In fact, there are a number of reasons. But the most important principle here is just that extreme projections of recent trends tend not to come true. The scientific ‘models’ that Ehrlich and the other enviro-catastrophists of the 60s and 70s relied on were very basic things—they were really just drawing exponential curves and then saying ‘See, line go up!’ That sort of simple projection ignores all the various countermeasures that people will take against emerging problems, and all the ways they’ll adapt to new conditions. Countermeasures and adaptations act as a dampening force, slowing down the trend lines before catastrophe hits—sometimes, though not always, slowing it enough to avoid catastrophe entirely.” 

Straight Out of a Story Book

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • For more on what the House could look like after McCarthy’s wheeling and dealing, be sure to check out the latest edition of Uphill (🔒). “An open amendments process wouldn’t just empower the House Freedom Caucus,” Haley writes. “It would empower centrists and Democrats, too.”
  • What does Congress have to do with David Bowie? “Every time you think it has exhausted every possible way to express its creativity, it finds new and fascinating ways to capture our attention by mastery of its art,” Chris writes in Friday’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). “It takes some creativity to find a way to have gridlock even before one convenes, but to do so when the stakes are so preposterously low? That’s the masterwork right there.”
  • The speakership race may have been democratic, Nick writes in his latest Boiling Frogs (🔒), but it involved a whole lot of people who trashed democracy two years ago. “Basic respect for democratic outcomes is the first trait I’d name if asked to describe what democracy looks like,” he writes. “None of the major players involved in what’s happening this week share that trait.”
  • In Friday’s G-File, Jonah addressed the Republicans’ speakership kerfuffle as only he can. “You know that meme about Leeroy Jenkins?” he writes. “Thanks to the widespread belief that conservatives shouldn’t have to engage in the political process in a grown-up, reasoned and reasonable manner the right has defined authentic conservatism as Leeroy Jenkins-ism.”
  • David is in a reflective mood, devoting his latest French Press to changes in the party and movement he’s been part of his entire adult life. “Every movement is going to face defeat and disappointment,” he writes. “But it’s hard to miss the fact that where the anger and power wing was once eclipsed—living in the shadow, for example, of Reagan, Bush, Bush, McCain, and Romney—it’s now dominant.”
  • On the site over the weekend, Peter Meilaender reviewed what he argued could be the best English novel of 2022, Cameron Hilditch reviewed what he argued could be the best novel of the twentieth century, and Isaac Schorr reviewed Netflix’s Addams Family reboot.
  • And on the site today, Chris considers whether immigration policy will be a political liability for President Joe Biden going into 2024 and James C. Capretta explains the challenges of fixing rising entitlement costs.

Let Us Know

From what’s been publicly reported, do you think the procedural changes the Freedom Caucus extracted from Kevin McCarthy will make the House a better or worse legislative body?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.