Confrontation, anger and Donald Trump – an extraordinary night in US politics

US News

What an extraordinary night. A Republican politician restraining another. The would-be speaker confronting the man who’d just blocked him. 

And a former president calling into the chamber. All of it caught by the cameras inside House of Representatives.

Last-minute deals, angry faces, gatherings of rebels, all captured like modern-day Old Masters.

It all unfolded as the politicians gathered for their 14th vote in four days to elect a speaker – the second in line to the US presidency.

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Republican leader Kevin McCarthy thought he had it in the bag this time.

Marjorie Taylor Greene on the phone with Donald Trump
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Marjorie Taylor Greene on the phone with Donald Trump

He’d offered so many concessions to the small cohort of ultra-conservative Republicans who’d blocked him for days.

He’d promised them plum, hugely influential committee positions, and promised to change the rules governing his stability. That, he hoped would get their vote.

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His concessions pulled most of these Trumpian disrupters in.

But then a shock. Matt Gaetz, the maverick, controversial conservative wasn’t playing ball.

Despite enthusiastically referring to Mr McCarthy as “speaker-elect” on Fox News hours earlier, and saying he was “running out of things to ask McCarthy for”, Mr Gaetz didn’t vote for him. Ever-eager for the limelight?

Mr McCarthy lost. He marched to confront Mr Gaetz. They looked angry. Then from behind, another congressman approached. Republican Mike Rogers, with a few words of his own for Mr Gaetz before being restrained by another.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., listens during the twelfth round of voting in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Kevin McCarthy faced huge opposition from party rebels. Pic: AP

The cameras captured it all.

This is today’s Republican Party. And on January 6th it turns out, the anniversary of an insurrection which was fostered by some of these people.

A few yards away, another politician – conspiracy theorist, QAnon supporter and congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, controversial even within her own party, was holding her phone out, a call active. On the screen, the initials DT.

Donald Trump – still pulling the strings, or doing his very best to. His team say he was on the phone to several politicians in the chamber, including Mr Gaetz.

His divisive politics enabled this fringe group of ultra-conservatives, who are now disrupting on their own.

For four days Mr McCarthy had capitulated to their fringe demands. They get to call the shots because the Republican majority is so tiny.

It looked like it was all over for Mr McCarthy, for the week at least.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., smiles after winning the 15th vote in the House chamber as the House enters the fifth day trying to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Kevin McCarthy smiles after winning the 15th vote in the House chamber. Pic: AP

But then the man who had voted “no” moments earlier had suddenly changed his mind.

Mr Gaetz and Mr McCarthy shook hands. Deals done, a democratic compromise? Or desperate Republican infighting which will put Mr McCarthy as Speaker in a straitjacket, the least powerful speaker in years, unable to govern, beholden to his own far right.

It’s said that Kevin McCarthy had always wanted this job.

His fans say he’s a true conservative. Not hardline but robust and fair. His detractors say he’s always put power and politics ahead of democracy and the American people.

The truth, maybe, is that he will be what those who got him over the line want him to be. He’s their man now.

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