McCarthy Is Speaker after 15 Voting Rounds

After winning the majority of the house seats in the 2022 midterm elections, the Republican party had a new task: electing a new Speaker of the House to replace Nancy Pelosi. Kevin McCarthy, who had been the minority leader, wanted the role, but a group of the most conservative house members called The Freedom Caucus refused to vote him in without major concessions on his part. After fifteen rounds of votes, McCarthy was finally elected as speaker on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. However, the promises he made to his holdouts have politicians wondering if McCarthy will have any actual power.

The Speaker of the House is a unique position in that there are very few rules about it in the Constitution. In fact, all the Constitution says on the matter is that the House is in charge of electing its own speaker and setting its own rules. So, McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus members had plenty of leeway in terms of what they could negotiate about— committee positions and new or changed rules were all on the table.

The first major concession McCarthy made was promising spots on certain committees. The House Rules Committee is in charge of setting the terms for debates and deciding whether or not amendments can be made, and a spot on the committee is one of the most sought-after by representatives. In a Vox article entitled, “How Kevin McCarthy (Finally) Became Speaker of the House,” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma explained that the committee gets to “make sure [legislation] gets to the floor in the form that the speaker thinks is most likely to pass.” According to the NewsMax website (, the Freedom Caucus demanded three spots on the committee in exchange for their votes; McCarthy placed two (Ralph Norman of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas) on the committee following his election.

The other important concession McCarthy made was increasing the ability of house members to file a motion to elect a new speaker. According to an NBC News article entitled “How a Speaker of the House Can Be Ousted with a ‘Motion to Vacate,’” McCarthy agreed to change the rules so that a single House member can call for a new speaker election. The new election would take immediate priority over any other bills currently being debated in the house. Under Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats had the rule that a reelection could only be held “if offered by direction of a party caucus or conference”—not a single member.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes that McCarthy’s lack of power is worrying. In an interview for NBC News, she said, “What we’re seeing is the incredibly shrinking speakership. It is not a good thing for the House of Representatives. We are the people’s house. We have to negotiate with the Senate. We have to negotiate with the White House. And instead, we are diminishing the leadership role of the house.”

Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, also for NBC News, shared, “[McCarthy] has given everything away, including his dignity, to try to become speaker. And if he becomes Speaker, his nightmares just begin.” He continued, “He thinks this is bad — what he’s going through right now? He ain’t seen nothing yet, based on what he’s giving away.”

On the other hand, members of the Freedom Caucus see McCarthy’s relative lack of power as a good thing. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, McCarthy’s final and most passionate holdout, is glad that power is now “democratized” among multiple members rather than concentrated in McCarthy’s hands. “I’m very optimistic about where we are right now,” said Gaetz for NBC News.

The full implications of McCarthy’s concessions remain to be seen, as the House operates under its new committee members, new rules, and new, potentially powerless, Speaker.