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Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck cast crucial votes for Kevin McCarthy

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., votes present during the 14th vote in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
McCarthy secures spot on 15th vote

After four days and 15 roll-call votes, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy got help from two Coloradans to become speaker of the House.

McCarthy, a California Republican, secured the position leading the chamber in large part because of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican, who tried to block McCarthy from taking power through the 13th vote. On the 15th and final vote, however, which ended just after midnight Saturday in Washington, D.C., she was one of six Republicans who voted “present,” narrowly handing McCarthy the speaker’s gavel.

The “present” votes weren’t factored into the 216 votes McCarthy needed to win.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, of Windsor, returned to Washington on Friday night after missing five votes Thursday and Friday to return to Colorado for a nonemergency medical appointment to vote for McCarthy in the final two rounds and helping him cross the finish line

Boebert was one of the leaders in a group of 20 far-right GOP representatives who thwarted McCarthy’s bid to lead the House for four days. They instead voted for a handful of others to become speaker, including former President Donald Trump.

Boebert blocked McCarthy’s bid on the 14th vote by casting a “present” vote along with Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, leaving McCarthy one vote shy of becoming speaker. Four other Republicans who opposed McCarthy voted for other candidates.

But on the 15th tally, with the other McCarthy dissenters joining Boebert and Gaetz in voting “present,” McCarthy became speaker.

The delay in appointing a speaker of the House marked the first time in 100 years that more than one vote was necessary to select a leader for the chamber, highlighting sharp divisions among House Republicans that are expected to linger over the next two years.

Boebert wasn’t the only Coloradan, however, who played a role or was affected by the four-day saga. The holdup also delayed the swearing in of Colorado’s two new members of the U.S. House, Democrats Yadira Caraveo and Brittany Pettersen.

Here’s a look at how Colorado’s eight U.S. House members handled the situation:

Boebert played a central role in resisting McCarthy

The impasse began Tuesday, the first day of the 118th Congress, with McCarthy’s objectors, including Boebert, talking to the media.

The Colorado congresswoman was front and center, saying McCarthy had rejected a deal that would have earned her vote and the votes of her far-right allies.

“Here we are being sworn at instead of sworn in,” she said. “I have been working every day to unify the Republican Party for the American people.”

McCarthy received between 201 and 203 votes on six roll-call votes held Tuesday and Wednesday, always short of the 218 he needed.

After voting for candidates other than McCarthy a half-dozen times, Boebert sparred with Fox News host Sean Hannity on his Wednesday night show.

Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., holds the gavel on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, early Saturday. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

“I asked you a simple question, congresswoman,” Hannity said as he pressed Boebert about when she would drop her opposition to McCarthy. “I feel like I’m getting an answer from a liberal.”

Boebert also went on MSNBC on Wednesday night, where she admitted she hasn’t spoken with McCarthy in recent days. She claimed many of her colleagues were “cheering us on silently.” The congresswoman said she wasn’t interested in voting for McCarthy’s No. 2, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.

“I don’t think that I could support any current leadership,” she said. “And I believe that many of my colleagues feel the same way. We need a change in leadership. We want to fundamentally change the way Washington, D.C., operates.”

Boebert cast five votes for other candidates on Thursday and three on Friday before her final two “present” votes. Boebert didn’t explain why she dropped her opposition to McCarthy.

“It’s been a long week in D.C. and the pressure has been intense, but it had to be done,” Boebert tweeted early Saturday. “The 118th Congress will be one that does the business of the American people, not the special interests and lobbyists. This week was about making that happen.”

She and Gaetz went on Hannity’s show about 90 minutes before those Friday votes. Both were coy about how they’d vote.

Boebert and Gaetz joined Republican Reps. Andy Biggs and Eli Crane, of Arizona; Bob Good, of Virginia; and Matt Rosendale, of Montana, in voting present on the final vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., talks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., right, after Gaetz voted “present” in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

The Coloradan talked throughout the process about wanting a guaranteed House floor vote on a bill instituting term limits for member Congress as one of her demands. Others in the far-right blockade wanted changes in House procedural rules, rather than policy.

“It is sort of like reality TV politics, where you just get famous by doing outrageous things and drawing attention to yourself,” said Jennifer Victor, a political scientist at George Mason University who studies Congress. “Because this faction that’s holding up the speaker’s vote, they don’t even really seem to want anything. They’re mostly drawing attention to themselves.”

Buck and Lamborn stuck with McCarthy

The other two Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation – Buck and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs – stuck with McCarthy throughout the impasse.

Buck drew attention Wednesday when he suggested to Politico and CNN that McCarthy should either cut a deal or withdraw from the race. He also joked that serving drinks at a caucus meeting might help Republicans break the stalemate.

Buck maintained his support for McCarthy through the eighth vote on Thursday, however, then missed three more Thursday votes and two Friday votes for a nonemergency medical appointment in Colorado.

He returned for the 14th vote and voted for McCarthy. Buck voted for McCarthy during the 15th and final vote, too.

Lamborn never wavered in his support for McCarthy.

“We cannot let personal politics place the safety and security of the United States at risk,” he said in a statement Thursday.

How the Democrats handled the situation
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks with Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Colo., as a small child sleeps after the House adjourned without electing a new speaker during opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

All of the Democrats in the House repeatedly cast their votes for speaker for U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, nominated Democratic leader Jeffries as speaker on Thursday, one of the 15 times he was nominated during the impasse.

The other Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation found ways to pass the time.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Centennial, posted on Twitter on Wednesday that he had put on a new track suit and was getting a drink. U.S. Rep.-elect Pettersen, D-Lakewood, realized Thursday that she’s the first member of Congress named Brittany.

And Friday, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, of Denver, posted a photo of Colorado’s five U.S. House Democrats smiling together on the House floor.

But Rep.-elect Caraveo, D-Thornton, expressed frustration in a Friday afternoon tweet.

“This dysfunction is a disservice to the American people,” she wrote. “My constituents sent me here to do a job. The madness has to stop so we can get to work.”

No speaker means postponed swearing in for two new Colorado members

Caraveo and Pettersen’s families traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to see the two women be sworn into office. It didn’t happen.

Pettersen’s husband and son returned to Colorado on Wednesday night, while Caraveo’s family left Friday.

In fact, none of the 435 U.S. representatives in the House could be sworn in until the speaker was selected. They took the oath after 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning in Washington.

That delay presented other issues.

Crow went on CNN on Friday morning to talk about how the impasse affected national security. He and other Intelligence Committee members didn’t have access to classified briefings because they hadn’t been sworn in. Crow said he couldn’t get into the White House when he took a group there because he hadn’t been sworn in.

The speaker typically sets budgets for congressional offices in early weeks, so the vacancy in the office created uncertainty over staffing levels. Providing services to constituents was complicated by the delay, especially for new representatives. And if the delay had continued, payment for lawmakers and their staff might have been delayed as well.

Committees also haven’t been appointed, slowing initial legislative work.

One Coloradan did get sworn in on Tuesday as scheduled. Over in the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris swore in returning Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, greeting him by trying to emulate his deep voice.

Impasse has implications for the next two years

Many fear McCarthy’s historic failure to secure the speaker’s gavel reflects how chaotic the U.S. House will be over the next two years of GOP control of the chamber. It’s also possible that McCarthy loses his job since one of the concessions he made to secure enough votes to become speaker makes it easy for other members of Congress to try to oust him.

Victor said the concessions McCarthy agreed to – making it easier to challenge the speaker, giving certain members committee assignments and more – will impact action in the House.

“This whole thing is about power,” she said. “They want the current establishment to have less power. They want themselves to have more power, and they want to make sure that in the coming rounds of political battles they can get more power.”

The House will have to consider budget bills, defense bills and likely an increase to the debt ceiling to avoid a government shutdown. A balanced budget, which some of McCarthy’s opponents are demanding, could potentially mean deep defense budget cuts, something Lamborn and Crow would likely oppose.

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., left, pulls Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., back as they talk with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and other during the 14th round of voting for speaker as the House meets for the fourth day to try to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday. At right is Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

“The more meaningful the vote is for the country, the greater the opportunity for creating spectacles,” she said.

And chaos could start next week when the House resumes its business.

“As soon as the speaker vote is done, the next thing the House has to do is adopt the rules of the House so they can start operating,” Victor said. “But I don’t see why this same group would vote for the rules.”

Even once rules are in place, Victor predicted the group of Republicans will continue to detract from the rest of the House majority.

“You can’t make policy or have a legislature with people who don’t agree on the rules of the game, and essentially that’s how I see this faction,” she said. “They don’t agree on the rules of the game.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.