Marathon McCarthy speech highlights GOP leader’s play for speaker

WASHINGTON — 

It’s no secret that Kevin McCarthy wants to be the next speaker of the House. The Republican leader made that clear Thursday night and into Friday morning in the most literal way possible: by speaking — longer than any member of the chamber ever has.

McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) commanded the floor for 8 hours and 32 minutes, breaking Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s February 2018 record of 8 hours and 7 minutes, while stalling passage of a $1.7-trillion social spending bill that congressional Democrats intend to pass without any bipartisan support.

In his marathon speech, McCarthy addressed a wide range of topics including provisions in the massive social spending bill and possible amendments, previous presidents, his family’s politics, COVID-19, Elon Musk and Tesla, slavery, Afghanistan, immigration, drug trafficking and more, often stopping to call attention to heckling Democrats or to needle Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

“Last night, Speaker Pelosi attempted to jam through the most expensive bill in our country’s history for a vote,” McCarthy said in a statement to The Times on Friday. “This was wrong. Our country needed to hear a real debate. I did the best I could, for as long as I could, to explain to the American people how this bill would hurt our country in nearly every way imaginable. While we succeeded in delaying the vote for a day — we will continue to fight for our families, our community, and our country to stop this bill from becoming law.”

House Democrats scrapped plans to vote on the measure late Thursday night as McCarthy was still speaking but passed the bill Friday morning in a 220-213 vote. Republicans uniformly opposed the bill, and all but one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, supported it. It now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to be revised into a policy that satisfies the concerns of centrist Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Reporters spotted several Republicans coming toward McCarthy on the floor Friday morning to shake his hand, and one of the most important Republicans also showed he took notice.

“Great job by Kevin McCarthy last night, setting a record by going over 8 hours of speaking on the House Floor in order to properly oppose Communism,” former President Trump said in a statement. “We must never forget what the Democrats have done, at the highest level of evil. If [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell had fought, you would have a different Republican President right now.”

The “magic minute” House rule allows party leaders to speak for an unlimited amount of time during debate. House Republicans said that they had no idea McCarthy would speak nearly as long as he did but that they were in awe of how well he highlighted the flaws they see in the bill and showed the differences between the two parties.

“What he’s proving is that he’s got not only the chops to do the job, but he’s got the courage to actually get out there in front and lead,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) said in an interview. “I think what the leader did last night was necessary and was glad to be there. I was there from the beginning until the very end.”

“I want to thank my colleagues for standing with me, for standing with their constituents, as we do everything in our power to stop this bill,” McCarthy said as his speech began to wind down. “I hope the American public learned a little more. I hope my colleagues did, too.”

McCarthy endured the hours of standing and talking required, as well as Democratic Twitter trolling and heckling inside the chamber.

“What do you think’s going to happen to inflation if this bill becomes law? It’s only going to even be greater than the first $2 trillion this body wasted,” McCarthy said. “From bank surveillance to bailouts, this bill takes the problems President Biden and Democrats have already created and makes them much, much worse. It’s no secret that this bill is too extreme, too costly and too liberal for the United States.”

The speaker’s office described McCarthy’s speech as a “temper tantrum” and “meandering rant that has nothing to do with the Build Back Better Act.”

“I didn’t even pay attention to the speech,” Pelosi told reporters after the legislation passed. “I don’t even listen to most of the speeches on the other side, because they’re not fraught with meaning or fact, so I don’t have my computer get bothered with that.”

Asked if she cared that McCarthy had broken her record for longest floor speech, she said she “barely noticed.”

During her record-long speech in 2018, Pelosi read testimonies from “Dreamers” — people brought illegally to the U.S. as children — in an unsuccessful effort to secure a vote on legislation protecting the group from deportation.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocked McCarthy’s speech.

“Kevin McCarthy said a lot of words — a lot of words,” she said, noting that he mused about being in Tiananmen Square and a metaphorical swim competition between the U.S. and other countries after World War II.

“What he did not talk about was cutting the cost of child care, cutting the cost of elder care, what we were going to do around the country to bring more women into the workforce, to protect our climate,” Psaki said. “That, in our view, tells us everything you need to know about Kevin McCarthy’s agenda and what he supports.”

McCarthy’s unexpected marathon speech began a day after House Democrats censured Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who had posted, and deleted, an edited anime video depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Democrats also stripped Gosar of his committee assignments Wednesday, as they did with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in February over racist rhetoric and support of violence against Democrats.

McCarthy had privately called Gosar before the Arizona Republican took the clip down and issued a public statement explaining his intentions for sharing the video, in addition to addressing his colleagues directly at a conference meeting Tuesday morning. Shortly after his censure vote, Gosar reposted the offending tweet.

McCarthy suggested Democrats were hypocrites for setting what he called a new precedent in allowing the majority party to remove members of the other party from committee assignments. He criticized party leaders for taking no action against Democrats who’ve been accused of making antisemitic comments or remarks that he said encouraged violence.

McCarthy has struggled at times to unite both wings of his caucus. Conservative hard-liners want to punish a group of Republicans who supported a bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month, while moderates want McCarthy to rein in his more controversial members like Gosar, Greene and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who despite crediting McCarthy for “bringing it on the floor” Thursday night described his speech as “a really long death rattle” Friday.

“The outcome was already determined as a consequence of poor leadership and poor strategy,” Gaetz said.

McCarthy signaled that Gosar and Greene would get new committee assignments if House Republicans win back the majority, and that Democrats such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) would have to survive a floor vote in a GOP majority to retain their spots on congressional panels, echoing comments Greene previously said he’d told her privately.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), who’s known McCarthy for almost 20 years and shared a house with him near Sacramento when the two served in the Legislature, said McCarthy is in “prime position” to become the next speaker of the House if Republicans win the majority next November.

“I think he has easily four-fifths of the conference already in his column, and he’ll just have to work with a few folks to shore up what it takes to get over the top,” LaMalfa said. “I think he’s by far in the best position to continue to lead the conference, either as leader or as a possible speaker.”

Bob Shrum, director of the USC Center for the Political Future and a former speechwriter for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said McCarthy’s speech “will be famous for being famous, not for anything else.”

Shrum also dismissed the idea that the drama of the “magic minute” speech could quell internal party rumbling.

Every Republican leader in recent history “has run into a really fractious opposition from inside their own caucus,” Shrum said, pointing to the previous two GOP speakers as examples. “It happened to John Boehner, who just gave up. It happened to Paul Ryan, who just gave up and walked away. And it could very well happen to Kevin McCarthy.”

Indeed, a Thursday night tweet from Greene foreshadowed the potentially turbulent path ahead for McCarthy to win the speaker’s gavel, even as McCarthy himself has predicted Republicans could gain upward of 60 seats next fall.

“Hopefully when @GOPLeader finishes his strong speech against the Democrat communist takeover of America, he takes action to hold the unlucky 13 accountable for making the horrific BBB vote possible tonight,” Greene tweeted, referring to the 13 House Republicans who voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law on Monday. “Kick the traitors out of @HouseGOP, & lead. #ActionsSpeakLouder.”

Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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