Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy has been elected speaker of the House of Representatives, overcoming the opposition of right-wing dissenters who had derailed for several days his bid to lead the chamber.
It took 15 rounds of voting for McCarthy to secure the House’s gavel, securing 216 of the 428 votes cast late on Friday. The Democrats’ Hakeem Jeffries got 212 votes.
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“My father always told me, it’s now how you start, it’s how you finish,” McCarthy said in his first speech.
“Our system is built on checks and balances. It’s time for us to be a check and provide some balance to the president’s policies,” he added.
With McCarthy finally ascending to the speaker’s chair, the House will finally start swearing in newly elected lawmakers and the 2023-24 session can begin.
It was the first time in a century that a speaker was not elected in the first round.
McCarthy’s speakership bid appeared up in the air before the House meeting on Friday. He had been negotiating with right-wing dissenters after three days of failure to secure a majority.
Republicans only narrowly took control of the House after a disappointing midterm election performance in November that saw Democrats retain control of the United States Senate.
McCarthy, of California, replaces veteran legislator Nancy Pelosi, who announced plans to step down from the Democratic House leadership last month. Jeffries, a New York Democrat, will serve as House minority leader in the new Congress.
McCarthy previously promised to use his new role to upset the Democratic agenda and intensify oversight over the administration of President Joe Biden.
In November, the Republicans gained a thin 222-212 majority in the midterm elections, giving outsized power to the right-wing hardliners who oppose McCarthy’s leadership.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Alan Fisher, reporting from Capitol Hill, described the evening as an “incredible” series of events.
“I’m sure there were many people who thought this was not going to happen and Kevin McCarthy might have been one of them,” Fisher said.
“This has been a lifelong dream of his. He’s been quite keen to get this job.”
The longest fight for the speakership was in 1855, lasting more than two months with a staggering 133 ballots, during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.
The Republican dissenters had presented numerous demands before agreeing to back McCarthy, including changing House rules to allow any member to bring a no-confidence vote on the speaker.
They also sought a bigger say on the House rules and appropriations committees, which would allow them to influence the US government budget and help decide which bills can move forward in the chamber. Details of the possible deal that saw most of them change their votes in favour of McCarthy have not emerged.
The new House speaker has said he would launch a congressional investigation into the business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — an issue that Democrats dismiss as a conspiracy theory.