After GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy delayed a final vote on the Build Back Better bill with an eight-and-a-half-hour speech, House Democrats both gave McCarthy what he wanted and denied him of his actual win.
Instead of voting on the $1.75 trillion bill in the dead of night and making McCarthy the focus of every final passage story, Democrats recessed until Friday morning, intending to come back and pass the bill then.
Curiously, McCarthy stopped talking shortly after surpassing the eight hour, seven minute record set by Nancy Pelosi in 2018—yielding after eight hours and 32 minutes.
Starting at 8:38 p.m., McCarthy took full advantage of the “Magic Minute”—in which leaders from both parties are allowed to speak for as long as they want with it only counting as one minute against the time allocated for debate—and delivered a stemwinder of half-truths, outright lies, aggrieved arguments, unrelated tangents, and recycled rhetoric.
In doing so, McCarthy raised the temperature in an already steaming House chamber, with Democrats repeatedly interjecting and needling the California Republican, and with McCarthy seeming to stretch his speech even longer as punishment.
As McCarthy began his lecture on the floor Thursday, the Democratic heckling started almost immediately. McCarthy told members he had “all night,” to which Democrats responded, “So do we!”
And both sides really did.
When McCarthy baselessly claimed the bill would cost $5 trillion, Democrats started yelling out increasingly large numbers. “$6 trillion!” one shouted, before another topped him with “$7 trillion!”—with more Democrats joining in with even more farcical projections.
When McCarthy said, “If I sound angry, I am,” Democrats chimed in with a prolonged “awww” sound, like they were watching a baby do something cute.
When he suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likes to remove members from committee assignments due to poor behavior—a dig at the rowdy Democrats—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) shouted that the recent vote to remove Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) from committees was about “inciting violence.”
She stormed off the House floor shortly after.
And when McCarthy finally wrapped up, Democrats, who’d quieted down and eventually left as the speech dragged on for hours, ending at 5:10 a.m.
After eight-and-a-half hours—and a speech that hit topics like inflation, Elon Musk, the McDonald’s dollar menu, Taiwan, baby carrots, the Soviet Union, the Virginia governor’s election, winning the lottery, Afghanistan, San Francisco, proxy voting, Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, mask rules, McCarthy’s first speech in Congress, and, from time to time, the actual bill—the House recessed and said lawmakers would come back at 8 a.m. on Friday.
McCarthy seemed to want to make the story about him, rather than a bill that includes $550 billion for climate change, $400 billion for child care and universal preschool, $150 billion each for affordable housing and Medicaid’s home-care program, expanded child tax credits, and expanded Medicare provisions and subsidies, among other priorities.
In the end, he managed to make the night about him, but Democrats prevented him from stealing their ultimate headlines.
Now, they’ll return Friday morning, with about 10 minutes left for debate on the Build Back Better bill and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Magic Minute” still to come, and likely narrowly pass the legislation along party lines—with a few Democrats expected to join all Republicans in opposition.
Still, that win will only be fleeting as well. The social spending bill has yet to pass the Senate, and while almost all Democrats in that chamber support the bill, two key senators have yet to sign on: Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
That vote will become the true test for Democrats, and it will hinge on President Joe Biden’s ability to win Manchin and Sinema over to support a key plank of his agenda.