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McCarthy finally wins 15th vote for House speaker, but not without concessions


CHERYL JOHNSON: The Honorable Kevin McCarthy of the state of California, having received a majority of the votes cast, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives.



But it took 15 rounds of voting over five days. There is finally, however, a speaker of the House, and Speaker McCarthy addressed the House shortly after midnight today.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: But I hope one thing is clear after this week. I never give up.

SIMON: It was the first time in a century it took more than a round of voting to elect a speaker and seems to come with a price. NPR national political correspondent Susan Davis joins us. Susan, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: They did everything but turn him upside down and shake out his pocket change, didn't they?

DAVIS: They might have tried that, too. I wasn't in all the back-door meetings.

SIMON: I mean, on top of everything else, he agreed to changing the rules of the House to allow one member to bring up a motion to throw him out. We could go through this again. What else did he agree to do?

DAVIS: Some of it's in writing. Some of it's just handshake agreements. But he did make agreements with a faction of hard-right conservatives that he would put more members aligned with them on key committees, including the Rules Committee, which plays a big role in deciding what bills go to the floor, that he'd allow more time before major bills could come up for a vote, that he wouldn't let those big behemoth spending bills come up for the floor, that he would insist that spending bills be voted on one by one in the Congress. He also agreed to loosen restrictions to make it easier for all members to offer amendments to any bills and handshake agreements to allow votes on certain types of legislation like enacting term limits and balancing the budget.

SIMON: So in essence, did Kevin McCarthy, in order to become speaker, give up a lot of the power that traditionally comes with the office of speaker?

DAVIS: He certainly enters the speakership in a weaker position than any of his recent predecessors - also worth noting that an outside super PAC aligned with McCarthy put out a statement this week saying that they would not engage in any open Republican primaries. You know, typically party leaders like to play a role in deciding who their candidates are and helping elect them. But this has also been a point of contention with the right. So in order to get the job, he had to water down the speaker's political power, the legislative power to decide, you know, what goes to the floor and his ability to drive the agenda.

Now, on some of this, it's more broadly popular. A lot of Republicans support having more input in the legislative process. But, again, if he runs afoul of any faction, any one member, he could face a referendum vote on his speakership because of that rules change he had to agree to. So, you know, there's so much focus on the hard right, but don't lose sight of the fact that a lot of these Republicans come from swing districts. You know, this is a really narrow majority, and he's going to have this tricky balancing act of trying to keep the far right happy but not ailing the moderate members who delivered the majority.

SIMON: We also have to note the timing, because yesterday marked two years since the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

DAVIS: Yeah, and many of the Republicans who tried to derail McCarthy were also some of the most vocal election deniers, folks like Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona. After that attack, McCarthy had initially distanced himself from former President Trump, but today, they're close political allies. McCarthy even made a point to praise Trump at a press conference after the vote.


MCCARTHY: I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don't think you should doubt - anybody should doubt his influence.

DAVIS: Trump endorsed McCarthy for speaker, and Trump obviously is also running for president again. So one of the political things to watch is how McCarthy might wield that power to help Trump win the nomination, especially as parts of the party would like to see them move on and nominate someone else.

SIMON: Sue, does this all foreshadow what the new Congress is going to be like with a fractured majority and just a four-seat majority?

DAVIS: Probably. You know, even if Republicans get 218 votes on everything they want to do, it's still divided government. You know, every bill is going to have to be negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Biden. So McCarthy might have to expend a lot of political capital to pass a conservative agenda in the House that's dead on arrival. But he's going to have very real fights to navigate with Democrats to keep the government open, to raise the nation's borrowing limit without alienating those mainstream conservatives who want to prove they can be a responsible governing party, especially after this week.

SIMON: NPR national political correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, I've talked to NPR executives. Take off the morning.

DAVIS: (Laughter) I appreciate that, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.