Jim Hartman: Speaker McCarthy and the GOP Chaos Caucus
Early last Saturday morning, Kevin McCarthy finally won enough votes to become speaker of the US House on the 15th ballot.
When the House of Representatives met to organize on January 4, a Republican faction blocked McCarthy’s elevation to become speaker. After four days of gridlock within the GOP — and embarrassment — McCarthy finally prevailed.
Twenty Republicans had refused to budge, despite being outvoted 10-1 by their fellow Republicans.
Republicans who voted against McCarthy included some of the most right-wing lawmakers in the House.
Nineteen of the 20 groups held are members of the far-right Freedom Group.
Twelve of the 20 who voted against McCarthy denied the results of the 2020 election. These Republicans said the election was stolen or rigged — or that Donald Trump was the rightful winner.
The rebels offered no credible alternative candidate, nominating a number of different candidates on successive ballots, including Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who did not want the job.
Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich said Republicans were fighting a group of “crazy disruptors” in the House.
Voters elected a Republican House to control the Biden administration. They wanted to end anarchy on the southern border and pressure Democrats on spending, inflation and energy production.
Far-rights have a history of preferring war bites — and government shutdowns — to governing. Political reality: The GOP’s House majority is historically narrow (222-212) and Democrats still control the Senate and the White House.
For there to be any Conservative political victories over the next two years, compromise will have to be made.
The problem facing McCarthy now is that the isolated 20 teams don’t really want to govern. They much prefer to be in opposition where it is easier because no compromises are required. They may rage against the “swamp” and practice purist peacock politics.
This is the hard truth behind the challenge to McCarthy.
It was true of John Boehner, who became speaker in 2011 and was ousted in 2015, and of Paul Ryan, who took office and left in 2018. Both left the group disillusioned with the growing chaos.
McCarthy repeatedly tried to appease the far-right bomb-throwers, who would never settle for anything less than complete capitulation.
The clearest example of his appeasement: On January 6, 2021, McCarthy reportedly told President Trump candidly about the rioters in the Capitol: “They’re trying to kill me!” A few weeks later McCarthy changed his tune and headed to Mar-a-Lago to get back into Trump’s good graces.
McCarthy won, but his victory came at a high price.
The assertion that this was a “healthy exercise in democracy” is false. This was a power play.
The caucus of 20 lawmakers saw an opportunity to exploit the GOP’s narrow five-seat majority.
McCarthy is said to have given powerful assignments to the Rules (two seats) and the Appropriations Committee, overriding senior members.
Will Nevada’s lone House Republican, Rep. Mark Amodei, a longtime Appropriations Committee member and McCarthy loyalist, be swayed?
McCarthy’s rumored deal to cap FY2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels would significantly reduce defense spending when the US military is already underfunded.
The biggest problem is McCarthy’s agreement to allow any single member of the majority party to move to “vacate the chair.” This makes him a hostage to anyone who wants to cause trouble or grandstand to raise funds.
It will be used by fringe members to extort concessions on legislation. The gang of 20 extremists proved that the tail of the caucus of chaos can wag the majority.
McCarthy continues to hitch his wagon to Donald Trump, despite the former president being a major contributing factor in preventing a red tide last November.
In combination with McCarthy’s countless concessions, Trump’s late calls to “Last Never Never” did the trick. All six voted “present” allowing McCarthy to become speaker with 216 votes.
Email Jim Hartman at [email protected].