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Kevin McCarthy’s GOP Enemies Are Finally Getting Their Revenge



When Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) passed a debt ceiling deal out of the House last week, he reveled in the demonstration of his control over his chaotic party and crowed that he’d proven his legions of doubters wrong.

It only took a few days for him to come crashing down to earth—thanks to the very crew of conservative rebels who had made his path to the speakership so excruciating to begin with.

As they howled over the passage of the bill McCarthy negotiated with President Joe Biden—which 71, approximately one-third of House Republicans, voted against—his hard-right antagonists were quiet about what tact they would take to retaliate against the Speaker for his alleged capitulation.

Upon the House’s return to Washington this week, the group’s plan became clear: sow chaos, then get what they want—whatever that is. McCarthy said on Wednesday he still doesn’t know.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

“This is the difficulty: Some of these members, they don’t know what to ask for. There is numerous different things they’re frustrated about… Some people want their certain bills up at a certain time. We’re just going to work through the agenda and get everything done,” the speaker told reporters Wednesday evening, insisting this is the reality of having a thin majority.


Indeed, with the five-seat majority McCarthy is working with, a small faction of the House majority can grind business to a halt in the chamber by voting against the so-called rule, which is the procedural lever that sets up floor consideration on a bill.

As one senior GOP aide put the standoff to The Daily Beast: “It’s a good reminder that Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is essentially on borrowed time. Any bipartisan outcome in the House puts him in peril. It’s unclear how many compromises he can survive.”

Members of the majority almost never exercise that power to block bills from the floor, even if they oppose the bill in question.

But on Tuesday, 11 Republicans did, and joined with all Democrats to defeat the rule to bring the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act—which is what it sounds like—to the floor, sending the chamber into a chaotic purgatory.

After his debt limit triumph, McCarthy earned a very different kind of history with the rule vote: he became the first Speaker to lose one since 2002.

For the Republican Conference’s most vocal defectors—largely members of the House Freedom Caucus—the meltdown constituted a rare win against leadership. HFC and allies frequently threaten these sorts of upsets. The overwhelming majority of the time, however, they fail.

If that were not humiliating enough for McCarthy, the House floor remained frozen all through Wednesday, with GOP leadership unable to move forward on legislation without winning over the holdout conservatives. On Wednesday night, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) canceled votes for the rest of the week, sending House members home until they could work out a deal.


McCarthy spent much of Wednesday huddling with conservatives—and leadership allies—in his office, who scuttled in and out even after votes for the day were canceled. But even after lengthy conversations, many exited the room and told reporters there were no updates so far.

Asked by reporters, those conservatives did indeed struggle to produce specific demands, other than issuing broad proclamations about wanting to hold leadership “accountable” and change the way the institution works. Some insisted leadership has to stop holding up “conservative” legislation after Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) publicly claimed his bill to protect pistol stabilizing braces is being blocked over Clyde’s vote against the debt ceiling bill.

“A conservative should be supporting moving conservative legislation and that’s not happening right now… If you really want to advance the conservative cause and limit government, stop blocking conservative bills,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) told reporters Wednesday evening.

Another senior GOP aide suggested to The Daily Beast that McCarthy had put Republicans in this position by making promises he likely never intended to keep. “Backroom deals that no one bothered to put into writing have led us to this impasse, members don’t like finger-pointing, they want the speaker to lead,” this aide said.

What the outburst from conservatives does clearly demonstrate is the control McCarthy declared he had on the House GOP is actually far more tenuous than he’s claimed to have, or perhaps even believed. The small faction of members who despise him retain the power to veto his agenda.

The very real risk for that faction, however, is that they wear down the patience of their GOP colleagues further by the day—and could drive the vast majority of them even more closely into McCarthy’s fold.

That patience grows even more critical as the House approaches appropriations season, when members are tasked with passing 12 individual spending bills that are also supposed to pass the Democratic Senate and be signed by President Biden.


“This is, in my opinion, political incontinence on our part. We are wetting ourselves and we can’t do anything about it,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

The procedural mutiny has marked a key difference between this fight and the last big fight that dramatically froze the floor: McCarthy’s protracted speakership battle.

When 20-some conservatives engaged in marathon talks with McCarthy to win concessions in exchange for their votes to support him, they had concrete asks. They wanted the power to call a vote to recall him anytime, representation on the floor gatekeeping Rules Committee, and a number of other procedural changes like how long the text of a bill is released before it goes to the floor.

Nearly all the members of that holdout faction are the ones holding up the floor this week. But their strategy seems less precise—with little clue as to what defectors are hoping for next.

McCarthy brushed off the holdup as temporary, insisting if he can get through the speaker battle, he can get through this.

“It’s just a couple of days. There’s no deadline here. It’s just like the same question you’d give me when the speaker race was on. I won’t give up. I’ll get through it. And we’ll listen to ’em and we’ll figure out a solution,” he said.

The speaker insisted he was ready to continue talking with members over the weekend.


As those negotiations continue, the big question hanging over the discussion is about McCarthy’s ability to remain the speaker. Any one member of the conservative faction could call for a motion to vacate. After the debt ceiling vote, at least two insisted the option should be on the table.

Still, McCarthy swears there’s nothing to worry about. Asked Wednesday if he’s confident he can hold the speakership for two more years, he projected confidence.

“I believe at the end of the term, when we get to the end of this term, you probably will never ask me that question again. You might give up on thinking we’re going to fail,” he said.

“I’m going to turn you all around. I’m going to keep praying for all of you,” he told skeptical reporters. “So don’t give up, you guys.”

Source: The Daily Beast


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