Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy must have imagined this day going a little differently.
Three weeks ago, the California Republican was preparing to face his colleagues as a candidate for speaker in anticipation of Thursday's House floor vote when he shocked the Capitol by pulling out of the race. In a small press gaggle Thursday in Statuary Hall, McCarthy assured reporters he had no regrets about his choice and that he harbors only excitement for the ascension of newly minted Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who replaced John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
"I'm very happy with my decision," McCarthy said shortly after Ryan was sworn in. "Had I not made that same decision, we would have had a very divided floor, and we still would have been divided as a conference."
"I have always put the country before myself," McCarthy continued, "and I think that's why Paul even decided to run. He's putting country before himself and I think he is the right person at the right time not only to unite our conference but to change the direction of the country."
Nine Republicans voted for Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, but Ryan still received 236 votes, well beyond the majority threshold necessary to win.
McCarthy knew he would have a tough time winning a majority, perhaps forcing members to go through multiple ballots on the floor until he cobbled together 218 votes — the number needed if every member voted.
"At the end of the day, he had a much higher vote than he needs to be able to do the job," McCarthy said, who said his "fear was always" that he would only get 218 or 220.
"You want to have a strength to govern," McCarthy said.
Asked whether he hoped to one day run again for speaker, McCarthy demurred, saying he was just excited about the chance to be Ryan's No. 2.
"Paul and I have worked together as a team when we were in the minority to win the majority," McCarthy said.
"We wrote 'Young Guns' together," he said, a reference to the 2010 book that offered up a new vision for the Republican Party. "There is a bond and a friendship there that makes me excited about going to work."
McCarthy's passing reference to the Young Guns prompted a reporter to ask whether Ryan had spoken to the third member of that one-time trio, former Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader and heir-apparent to the speakership until his surprise primary defeat in 2014.
The question made McCarthy laugh.
"I did speak to him today," he said as he walked away.
McCarthy wouldn't say if it focused at all on what might have been, for both of them.