Popcorn and a near-fight: 8 dramatic moments in the speaker election

It’s been a dramatic, history-making few days in the House, with McCarthy finally becoming speaker after four long days and 15 rounds of voting.

What is normally a simple procedure was instead fraught with drama - with popcorn in the House, a walkout and near-fight among Republicans, and a phone call from former president Donald Trump.

Here are some of the most dramatic and colorful moments from the past week.

1. A fight nearly erupts after Gaetz leaves McCarthy one vote short

The most dramatic moment by far came near the end - during the 14th round of voting on Friday, in what almost everyone had hoped would be the final round.

Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had ensured all eyes would be on him, refusing to answer the initial call of the clerk and maneuvering so that he would have a later, deciding vote. He eventually voted “present” - prompting fellow Republicans who believed this would secure McCarthy’s position as speaker to give him a standing ovation.

In fact, his “present” vote left McCarthy still one vote short. As Democrats laughed and Gaetz ignored appeals from McCarthy and his allies to break the stalemate, one member’s temper boiled over: Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) began shouting at Gaetz and had to be physically restrained by another lawmaker, who grabbed Rogers, including across his mouth, and pulled him back.

Gasps could be heard across the House chamber as lawmakers realized how close they had come to a physical altercation.


2. Republicans walk out on Gaetz

It wasn’t the first bit of drama centered on Gaetz. During the 12th round of voting, as Gaetz nominated Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker, he accused McCarthy of indulging in “an exercise in vanity.”

“Mr. McCarthy doesn’t have the votes today. He will not have the votes tomorrow and he will not have the votes next week, next month, next year,” Gaetz said.

His words prompted Michael Bost (R-Ill.), a McCarthy supporter, to interrupt him with angry shouting, something that had not happened during the first three days of balloting. Other GOP lawmakers walked off the House floor in protest, with some calling Gaetz “a clown.”

3. Donald Trump on the line

Former president Donald Trump was not physically in the chamber - but lawmakers were constantly reminded of his presence. Trump had endorsed McCarthy and urged Republicans to vote for him, although some holdouts appeared unconvinced, or voted for Trump instead. Trump also called Gaetz and pushed him to find a resolution, according to a source familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail a private discussion.

In one dramatic moment on the floor, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) could be seen brandishing a phone with “DT” - Donald Trump - apparently on the other end of the line. She tried to hand it to Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.), one of the anti-McCarthy holdouts, but Rosendale appeared to wave it off.

Rosendale had also taunted fellow lawmakers during the 12th ballot, announcing his vote was for “Kevin.” He then paused and looked around for dramatic effect, then grinned and added “Hern!” to groans, and a Republican shouting, “Sick!

4. Democrats break out the popcorn

The Democrats appeared to anticipate the drama from the first day, with several lawmakers posting images of themselves taking popcorn to the House floor Tuesday.

But the Democrats’ amusement was not well received by all, and it prompted a separate moment of drama Wednesday, when Republican Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) accused them of drinking through the votes as she nominated McCarthy in the sixth round of voting.

After describing it as “Groundhog Day,” Cammack said: “They want us divided. They want us to fight each other. That much has been made clear by the popcorn and blankets and alcohol that is coming up over there.”

The Democratic side of the chamber erupted at the mention of alcohol, shouting “Take her words down!” However, given the lack of a speaker, her words could not be struck from the record.

5. A White Republican accused a Black Democrat of ‘racist rhetoric’

Hard-right Republicans nominated Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) to be speaker on Wednesday, making it the first time in history that both major parties nominated a Black American to lead the House.

However, Democrat Cori Bush (Mo.) tweeted that Donalds was “not a historic candidate” for the role, accusing him of supporting a policy agenda “perpetuating white supremacy” and accusing Republicans of using his nomination as “a prop.”

A White male Republican member, Dan Bishop (N.C.), responded in the House the following day by accusing Bush - who is a Black woman - of “grotesquely racist rhetoric.” Bush could then be seen appearing to stifle a laugh.

6. Democrats remember Jan. 6

The final day of voting also marked two years since a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. A number of Democrat representatives commemorated the anniversary by wearing black, while others sat in the gallery above the House floor -- the same place they sought safety during the riot.

Democrats regularly acknowledged the anniversary, with Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) saying “the same individuals who fanned the flames of January 6th . . . may well be in charge of the people’s House,” and Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) recalling: “On that day, when my colleagues and I were trapped in this gallery, the terrorists who assaulted our police officers could [be] heard banging on these doors, breaking these windows. And they were here to prevent the certification of a free and fair election.”

7. Children and pets on the floor

It wasn’t just members of the House who turned up for the many rounds voting: Many representatives had taken their families to the House Tuesday as well to celebrate the new term and their being sworn-in.

Some children were still on the House floor and awake to see the swearing in during the early hours of Saturday.


One bipartisan moment came Friday when Republicans and Democrats alike stood up after Wesley Hunt (R-Tex.), who had flown to and from Texas in 24 hours to see his wife, who had recently given birth, cast his vote. McCarthy also walked down the aisle to shake his hand.

On a different note - Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) was seen carrying a puppy in the back of the chamber - a possible sign of there being few rules before a speaker was elected.

8. The final moments of drama before McCarthy got the gavel

The 15th and final vote also came about in dramatic circumstances. Late Friday night, as it appeared that McCarthy’s speaker bid had been thwarted again, lawmakers began voting to adjourn until Monday.

But - just moments before voting ended - McCarthy signaled he had a deal, quickly changing his own vote not to adjourn, and leaders decided to conduct a 15th and final roll call for speaker, as Republicans chanted, “One more time, one more time.”

Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), during the final round of voting, summed up the thoughts of many after an eventful four days: “Madam clerk, I rise to say, ‘Wow.’”

With every vote in the balance, there was a final bit of drama as one Republican accidentally voted incorrectly. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) responded with “present” when her name was called during the last round, sparking alarmed looks from other Republicans. A colleague shouted “McCarthy!” to alert her to her mistake, and Spartz quickly corrected herself.

As McCarthy was finally given the speaker’s gavel after four long days of voting, he joked: “That was easy, huh?”

He was later congratulated by Biden and others.

The surreal week was perhaps best summed up by the House’s youngest new member, Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), 25, who said: “I’m going to get sworn in 1 a.m. 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.”