In the 14th vote for Speaker of the House, chaos reigned.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy had predicted that a vote Friday night would be the one that — at last — put him over the top to secure the speaker’s gavel, allowing the business of the 118th Congress to commence.
History had other plans.
The session began at 10 p.m. local time. In a first sign that it might indeed be McCarthy’s night, previously steadfast opponent Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) voted “present,” instead of against the GOP leader, lowering the threshold needed to win.
The drama intensified as dogged McCarthy foe Rep. Matt Gaetz skipped his turn to vote in the initial alphabetical roll call, setting him up to vote last. The habitual other no votes continued apace. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana took the anti-McCarthy forces again to the edge of defeating McCarthy with a fourth no vote.
Finally, with the House clerk returning to the skipped votes, Gaetz too voted “present.” Yet even with this favor to an old enemy, the math still did not work in McCarthy’s favor. He’d secured 216 votes — exactly half. The rules for electing speaker require an absolute majority. For victory McCarthy needed Gaetz to vote for him directly.
As the C-Span cameras rolled, a remarkable scene unfolded on the House floor. No longer content to leave the vote whipping to trusted delegates, McCarthy himself marched up to the bench where Gaetz was seated next to Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. and a confrontation erupted between him and Gaetz.
Gaetz wagged his finger. McCarthy eventually walked away. McCarthy ally, Rep. Rogers (R-Ala) seemed to have been held back to keep him from attacking the Florida rebel.
In the end the clerk read out the results. McCarthy has only 216 of 432 votes. She declared: “A speaker has not been elected.”