Past is prologue.

It was October 2015. An unseasonably warm, autumnal light bathed a corridor near the Hall of Columns on the first floor of the Capitol.

It was mid-afternoon. But the well-trafficked hall was surprisingly empty when I encountered a lawmaker who was a friend and occasional ally of then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, unexpectedly announced his retirement just a few days before. McCarthy was poised to assume the speakership. But there were already rumblings that the McCarthy lacked the votes. McCarthy was bleeding support from fellow Republicans. 

A McCarthy aide confided to Fox that his boss’s absolute ceiling in the Speaker vote was 219 votes — barely the House majority. The California Republican had just suggested on Fox that House GOPers set up a special committee to investigate Benghazi solely to inhibit the presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton. Some Republicans — especially those on the fare right who wanted to oust Boehner — were searching for a reason to ditch McCarthy.


The lawmaker and I chatted quietly about McCarthy’s prospects and parted ways.

But a moment later, the lawmaker returned to add something to our conversation.

“I think Kevin will win,” confided the member about McCarthy’s prospects for the speakership. “But I don’t think he’ll be there long.”

“How long?” I inquired.

“I’ll give him about six months,” answered the lawmaker/soothsayer.

It may have been 2023 and not 2015, but you could have made some money had you taken the over on McCarthy’s tenure as speaker of the House.

Over the years, congressional observers often dinged McCarthy for his lack of prowess as a vote counter. That was a knock on McCarthy when he served as House Majority Whip in 2011. It was the case recently when McCarthy tried in vain to get the votes for the House to begin debating the annual defense spending bill. Such was the case when the House rejected McCarthy’s gambit last Friday to approve an interim spending measure with border security attached. McCarthy’s status with the House Republican Conference was on display in January when the House voted repeatedly for speaker — without electing a winner.


But McCarthy may have been a better vote counter than people gave him credit for.

McCarthy eventually became speaker in January. After drama of the highest order, McCarthy managed to wrangle enough votes on a GOP abortion bill, a GOP-only debt ceiling bill, a bipartisan debt ceiling package, the Republican defense appropriations bill, and yes, the stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown last weekend.

The speaker referred to the latter maneuver as a “gamble.”

McCarthy has also known where the votes lie when it comes to his leadership aspirations.

McCarthy jolted the Capitol in October 2015 when he abruptly dropped his candidacy for speaker as the Republican Conference was huddled in a hearing room, poised to tap him as their nominee on the floor. McCarthy knew he lacked the votes.

McCarthy understood it would be a challenge to secure the votes to become speaker last November after voters delivered Republicans a scant four-seat majority. That was well short of the robust 40 to 50 seat majority McCarthy forecast. And even though it took 15 tallies in January and was the longest election for speaker in 164 years, McCarthy finally nailed down the votes for speaker.

On Tuesday morning, hours before his own GOP colleagues evicted him from the speaker’s suite, McCarthy seemed to know where the votes were headed.


When asked early Tuesday, McCarthy said he was confident he would “hold on” by nightfall. Yours truly followed up with the former speaker live on Fox around 2 p.m. just off the floor as he walked to the chamber. The House was voting on whether or not to kill the effort by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to extract McCarthy from the speakership.

“Do you stand by the idea that you’re going to be speaker of the House tonight?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered McCarthy. “Look, I’m an optimist because I think there’s no point of being anything else.”

I followed up.

“I know you don’t like hypothetical questions. But if this goes to a speaker vote eventually, will you continue to stand for speaker, vote after vote?” I inquired.

“Talk to me later. We’ll see what happens,” said McCarthy.

That non-answer answered everything.

“That doesn’t sound like you’ll run in a new speaker’s race,” I said to McCarthy as he walked away.

He didn’t reply.

McCarthy forecast his fate Tuesday morning. After a huddle of the House Republican Conference, the former speaker accurately noted that “if five Republicans vote against me, I’m out.”


It’s about the math. Eight Republicans supported removing McCarthy Tuesday afternoon. But despite McCarthy’s morning confidence, he seemingly knew how the vote would unfold.

“I knew they would make the motion on me,” said McCarthy Tuesday evening. “It didn’t make one bit of difference. I’m very comfortable with that decision.”

McCarthy knew the math. He knew where the votes were. And he apparently knew his speakership was over.

But in reality, this was where McCarthy’s speakership was going, dating all the way back to 2015 after Boehner quit.

“Wasn’t this kind of always inevitable?” I asked, noting the narrow Republican majority.

Republicans lacked a vote cushion that may have protected McCarthy.

“You knew it was always a possibility. So that was fine,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy almost never got to this point.


Late on the night of Jan. 6, 2023, the House had completed its 14th consecutive roll call vote without electing a speaker. The plan was for the House to adjourn for a few days and allow Republicans to regroup. The House was about to adopt the motion to adjourn. Most lawmakers suspected that McCarthy was toast if the House broke for the weekend. Time was not on his side. McCarthy’s chances of becoming speaker would only calcify as members went home for a couple of days. There would likely be a push to draft someone else to run the place.

But suddenly there was a deal. McCarthy struck an accord with Gaetz on the floor. Republicans by the dozen flooded into the well of the chamber to switch their vote from yea to nay, preventing the House for adjourning. The House remained in session. The body then turned to its 15th vote for speaker, electing McCarthy after the witching hour on Jan. 7.

McCarthy finally had the votes to become speaker, more than seven years since his last aborted attempt.

This week’s outcome may have been inescapable for McCarthy.

There were rambunctious Republicans hell-bent on blocking him from the speakership in 2015. There was a different flavor of Republicans who delayed his election to the speakership in January. And McCarthy finally burned through all available political petrol this week. His bid for the speakership ran on fumes for eight years.

McCarthy made it to the gas station. But there was no more fuel.

McCarthy finally clasped the gavel. But not for long.

This was the fate McCarthy’s oracle prophesied on that sunny afternoon in the Hall of Columns at the Capitol eight autumns ago. This was McCarthy’s kismet. And if McCarthy was ever going to be speaker, that destiny was seemingly guaranteed years ago.