Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy unleashed a long, firey speech overnight, seizing control of the House floor and preempting passage of President Joe Biden’s big domestic policy bill.
At 8 hours and 32 minutes, it was the longest speech ever delivered on the House floor.
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Sneering with disdain one minute, spilling sarcasm the next, McCarthy held the floor as Thursday night became Friday morning. He hit on grievances that reached far beyond Biden’s legislative package, morphing into complaints over what’s wrong with the country and the Democrats who control Washington.
Far from the “happy conservative” he claimed to be, the California Republican tried a new role: angry heir to the former President Donald Trump legacy, picking up where the former president left off, mercilessly attacking his political opponents and their ideas with a ferocity that is rare even for the divided halls of Congress.
“If I sound angry, I am,” he said as the speech began.
“I’m just getting geared up, go just sit,” he said several hours later. At another point, he said, “I know you don’t like me, but that’s OK.”
The drawn-out speech provided a politically pained capstone to an extremely tense week in what has been one of the more divisive and dangerous years in Congress.
Monday started with celebration, a rare bipartisan achievement, as Biden signed the related $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. By midweek the House censured one of its own, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for posting a political cartoon that included depicting violence against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
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And as Friday began, McCarthy was deep into his stemwinder.
McCarthy’s speech began as almost any other during the final debate on Biden’s bill. Democrats were laboring to wrap up work on the package of social services and climate change programs, shelving their own differences to deliver on the president’s domestic priorities.
Typically, floor speeches last one minute during the debate, but McCarthy used the prerogative granted party leaders to speak as long as they wish. As the minutes stretched to hours it was clear McCarthy’s speech was becoming something else — a moment.
He tore into Biden’s package as reckless overspending, chided Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s running of the House, and hit on many other topics — out-of-control inflation, illegal immigration, the threat of a rising Communist China, his childhood in California, the Lincoln presidency, the Jim Crow era, even the influence of the movie “Red Dawn” on his politics — all while stabbing the air, scowling across the aisle, his voice cracking at times.
McCarthy called on a few Democrats to join the Republicans in opposing Biden’s package, trying to deny the party the votes it will need for passage.
Dozens of Republicans, some sitting directly behind McCarthy, urged him on. Democrats on the other side booed, and some tweeted snickering replies.
“Loved it,” said Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence. “This is a historical moment for Kevin, for sure.”
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Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted:
If you took the worst orator in the world
Gave him the worst speech in the world
And made him read it for the longest time in the world
That would be a lot like listening to Kevin McCarthy tonight.
Except, probably better.
It’s no secret Democrats are facing a Republican landslide in the midterm election next fall. If Republicans take control, McCarthy is in line to become speaker. He has tried to attain that job before, unsuccessfully. He bowed out when it was clear he would not have the support of his Republican peers.
McCarthy’s overnight performance could be seen as an audition of sorts, an appeal to the Republican colleagues who denied him the job last time.
It could also be seen as a performance for another audience — of one.
Trump recently called McCarthy during a game a golf, McCarthy said earlier on Thursday. McCarthy would not disclose what was said, just that they talked.
Theirs has been a rocky relationship at times, even though McCarthy had been among the first in Congress to support Trump’s 2016 campaign and enjoyed special status at times from the former president as “my Kevin.”
Republicans in the House have stayed close to the former president, emulating his style. The House Republican campaign committee recently held a fundraiser with Trump, and the party has determined that his support will be vital if they hope to win back control of Congress.
Unlike the Senate, which is known for its lengthy filibuster-style speeches, such addresses in the House are rare. Pelosi had held a modern-day record, having dug in with her own eight-hour floor speech in 2018 in support of illegal immigration law changes.
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McCarthy broke Pelosi’s speechmaking record just before 5 a.m. Friday. He ended around 5:10 a.m.
The House was set to return after dawn Friday and try again to pass the Biden spending package, sending it to the Senate.
The Associated Press contributed to this article