WASHINGTON — Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the leader of the House of the Republicans, entered the room at 8:38 p.m., determined to make history, even though he had no hope that the Democrats would let the bill of about $2 trillion derailment to strengthen the social safety net and combat climate change.
Eight hours and 32 minutes later, he stopped talking, with a few dizzy Republicans left to applaud his performance. The stunt didn’t detract from Democrats’ decision to pass the legislation, but it did set a record for the longest continuous House speech in modern history, surpassing one that Speaker Nancy Pelosi set in 2018, when she served in Mr. McCarthy’s current position. of a minority leader. For Mr McCarthy, it may also have boosted his campaign to take Ms Pelosi’s job and become the next speaker if Republicans take control in next year’s midterm elections.
“I personally didn’t think I could go that long,” said Mr. McCarthy towards the end of his exhausting, meandering and at times nonsensical monologue, while some people behind him struggled to keep their eyes open. Finally, after 5 hours, he was done. “I admit that, Madam President,” he said.
Mrs. Pelosi had left hours before.
Mr. McCarthy, the highest-ranking Republican in the House, turned down a scheduled vote on Thursday for ranting against President Biden and his agenda. But the Californian had another goal: to secure the respect—and possibly support—of his party’s unruly conservatives, who have been repeatedly told by their leader, Donald J. Trump, that other Republican leaders aren’t tough enough against the Democrats have fought. Hours after finishing his speech, Republicans punched and patted him on the back as he came to the House to vote.
“You get people excited, don’t you? You grab people’s attention and you show them that we’re determined to fight,” said Representative Chip Roy, a Texas Republican known for forcing procedural delays. He added: “Look, I want the leader to fight, and that was good. Go fight. Let’s fight more. Let’s throw everything we have on this crap.”
Democrats said he only got one of the most sweeping domestic policy bills passed by the House in broad daylight in half a century.
“I thought McCarthy was raising issues he has in his own caucus,” said Massachusetts Representative Richard E. Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He argued that the “far-reaching, successful implications” of the legislation would far outweigh the speech.
The debate on the bill would last 20 minutes before Mr. McCarthy — who isn’t known for his pompous rhetoric — took over to deliver a wordy, incoherent speech filled with Republican pleas against the legislation and punctuated by riffs about history. He flipped through President Ronald Reagan’s missile defense initiative, his personal friendship with Tesla founder Elon Musk, and at one point a lengthy exposition of George Washington’s famous painting crossing the Delaware River on his way to the Battle of Trenton. .
China came up a lot and repeatedly: its responsibility for the coronavirus, its hypersonic missile and its mock-ups of American battleships. As an aside, he suggested that even the Chinese would not bolster the Internal Revenue Service to force its citizens to pay their taxes as the Democrats had in their bill.
As the clock ticked toward midnight and long after, Mr. McCarthy sometimes seemed to lose track, spitting out what sounded like Mad Libs or Republican attacks.
“Inflation is 31 percent high, gas prices, Thanksgiving, a line that in a few months breaks every record of the past three years combined,” he shouted at one point.
The whole speech felt like a circular loop, bringing up the same issues over and over. When Ms. Pelosi gave up a vote and fired the Democrats after midnight, he said his opponents might leave, but he wouldn’t.
“I know some of you are mad at me, they think I’ve been talking too long,” he said. ‘But I’ve had enough. America has had enough.”
Representative Madison Cawthorn, a tough Republican from North Carolina, sat behind him, stuffing his lip with chewing tobacco and spit in a cup. Mr. McCarthy, for his part, fed himself peppermint candies, unwrapped one by one by assistants.
In the end, it didn’t even convince all the Republicans on his right that he might have to secure the speakership. on Steve Bannon’s Radio Show, Representative Matt GaetzFlorida Republican, accused Republican leaders and party moderates of approving the social policy law because, he said, they helped pass the infrastructure law associated with it earlier this month.
“While we heard Leader McCarthy speak for a long time, it was like a very long clatter to death,” said Mr. gaetz. “The outcome was already predetermined due to poor leadership and poor strategy.”
While the House has no equivalent of the Senate filibuster, Mr. McCarthy used the so-called “magic minute,” a House custom that allows leaders to talk as long as they want when recognized for their one-minute speaking time. . Ms. Pelosi used the tactic when she was minority leader in 2018 to speak for just over eight hours about the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
Ms. Pelosi’s speech at the time was considered the record for the longest continuous speech in the room, dating back to at least 1909.
“It’s a feat of epic proportions to speak for four hours straight and fail to produce a single memorable phrase, original insight, or even a joke,” Maryland Democrat Representative Jamie Raskin, wrote on Twitter. “McCarthy thinks he’s smart, but so far he’s proven he’s only half right.”
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who twice attempted to intervene during Mr. McCarthy’s speech, said the Republican leader had “auditioned for his base.”
“I think he wanted to say he lasted longer than Nancy Pelosi,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said Friday. “But if he wanted to outdo her, he should have done it in stilettos.”
Emily Cochrane reporting contributed.