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The last-minute drama that momentarily derailed McCarthy — again

In a scene seemingly more familiar to a developing world legislature, the House turned into a near-brawl late Friday after another failed vote to elect a speaker as Republicans held back one of their most senior members from a potential clash with Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Gaetz had just delivered the fatal last vote that left California’s Kevin McCarthy one vote shy of the bare majority he needed to win the gavel, after the flamboyant Republican had spent the long roll call maneuvering to make himself the last vote that mattered.

Instead of the anticipated victory, on the painstakingly long trek through 14 ballots, Gaetz voted present. Some Republicans thought that was enough to deliver a victory, since Gaetz had previously been voting for other conservative alternatives, but McCarthy knew right away that something was wrong.

He had 216 votes out of 432 cast — Gaetz and Lauren Boebert’s present votes essentially did not count in the overall tally — not enough for a majority, so McCarthy darted up the center aisle toward Gaetz and Boebert.

But quickly the GOP leader and his closest allies, including Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, homed in on Gaetz. Other Republicans came around as well, clearly trying to convince Gaetz to switch his vote before the clerk and vote counters officially counted up the ballots and gaveled the vote shut.

Then Mike Rogers of Alabama, who expects to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on which Gaetz serves, stormed toward the huddle, enraged. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a member of the leadership, walked with Rogers, aware of how angry he was.

Video and pictures from photographers show Rogers beginning to yell at Gaetz, when Hudson grabbed Rogers, including across his mouth, and physically yanked him back and sent him away from the group.

A gasp went up across the entire House chamber, as lawmakers realized how close they were to something that could have turned into a physical altercation.

Rogers’s outburst stemmed from an offer floated by GOP leadership that would give Gaetz the gavel of one of his subcommittees, according to two people familiar with the dynamics. According to a fellow lawmaker, Rogers believed there are more qualified members to take on the role.

‘Might give you some perspective on why Mike Rogers blew up on the floor,” they said.

When the drama ended, McCarthy denied any such offers. “I mean, we ended up with a tie and he was able to get the others there to go present,” he said. As for if Gaetz would get a subcommittee chairmanship for his vote, McCarthy said: “No one gets promised anything.”

At one point photographers had shots of Majorie Taylor Green of Georgia — a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump — waving a phone with the letters “DT” clearly visible and trying to hand it to one of the anti-McCarthy holdouts, who instead waved his hand at her, not interested in talking to someone who might have been the 45th president.

The tensions hit this boil because so many had been told, by McCarthy and his leadership team, that he had secured the votes to finally win on that particular ballot.

His wife, Judy, and other members of his family and close friends and staff had occupied VIP suites in the gallery above. Every anticipation of victory had been assured. Friends and family of other members, who have been waiting to see the swearing-in of new members-elect, had gathered in the other public gallery suites. McCarthy had guaranteed victory to reporters all afternoon and evening.

McHenry, a longtime ally, had delivered a nominating speech that fell flat except to one person, McCarthy, who got all the odd inside jokes that no one else got. It was set up to be a victory party — until the GOP’s math, again, fell short.

McCarthy entered the ballot expecting to have 216 votes in his pocket out of 434 members voting. He need to either flip two of the six Republican holdouts, including Boebert and Gaetz, to vote for him, or to get three of the six to vote present — which would lower the overall vote tally to 431 members, giving McCarthy a win at 216.

But Gaetz acted strangely from the very beginning of the session, which started at 10 p.m., in part because two of McCarthy’s supporters needed to fly back Friday afternoon for personal business in Colorado and Texas.

In the early moving about, Gaetz took a seat that McCarthy had sat in all week during these long alphabetical roll call votes, next to John Leganski, a top aide to McCarthy. After the opening prayer finished, Leganski put his right hand on Gaetz’s left shoulder and delivered a stern message to him.

He then retreated to the back of the chamber, where for several minutes Gaetz chatted with Jim Jordan of Ohio, a close McCarthy ally. When it was his turn to vote, Gaetz walked away and did not answer the call of the clerk, instead going to a huddle with McHenry.

When Gaetz finally took a seat, next to Boebert, McHenry settled in next to him, because at that point of the roll call only Boebert had switched her vote to present.

Gaetz had maneuvered the situation so that his vote would decide McCarthy’s fate — but he had to affirmatively vote for McCarthy. Or else the ballot would fail, just like the previous 13.

Gaetz, after voting present, endured a long entreaty from McCarthy, McHenry and many others, none nearly as angry Rogers.

Finally, McHenry thought there was no hope, so he offered a motion to adjourn the entire chamber until Monday in a bid to buy time to negotiate with the Gaetz and five other holdouts.

But as that vote unfolded, some Republicans were opposed to it and it looked for a moment like that would be the latest embarrassment to McCarthy’s leadership team — a failed vote on a procedural motion.

Then, from their perch on the back center aisle, Gaetz and Boebert marched forward to the well of the chamber asking for red cards — signaling they wanted to vote against adjourning.

According to a handful of Republicans familiar with the discussions, they had finally decided to change their minds.

Leaders killed the motion to adjourn, and then decided to do another 15th and final roll call for the speaker.

“One more time, one more time,” Republicans chanted.

All six holdouts, including Gaetz, voted either present or simply did not vote. Dozens of newly elected lawmakers would finally get to be sworn in, about 3-1/2 days after the original timeline.

“I’m gonna get sworn in 1am on Saturday after two members almost got into a physical altercation on the House floor after my 15th vote for speaker on my fourth day here,’ Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), the youngest new member at 25, said.

The last votes were cast around 12:30 a.m. McCarthy finally had the votes to win.

In the back of the chamber, Gaetz stood along with other Republicans. He did not clap for the new speaker.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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