Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republicans, is in the toughest political fight of his life. He is making promises and plans, cajoling and making deals to win over his colleagues, whose support he needs to become House speaker.
McCarthy‘s every new promise could be seen as a possible strategic move to silence the skeptics on his right as he moves toward the speaker’s gavel. With only a narrow majority in the House after the midterm elections, the GOP leader must work quickly to get the 218 votes he needs when the new Congress starts. Each vote will cost him, and there is no room for error.
McCarthy said when his party nominated him to run for speaker, “We’ll get there. McCarthy’s moves, some of which are symbolic and some of which are more important, show what kind of leader he is becoming. Even though McCarthy is likely to win his bid for the speaker’s gavel, it will come with a political cost that will set the tone and tenor of the new Congress.
First of all, McCarthy has promised to put Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., back on a committee after she and another right-wing lawmaker were kicked off because they said things that could cause trouble. As a form of political payback, he has promised to remove Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other well-known Democrats from their committees. This could lead to a controversial House vote early in the new Congress.
McCarthy has promised that, under his leadership, the House will get rid of the metal detectors that were put up to stop people from bringing guns into the House chamber. It will also get rid of the COVID-era rules that let lawmakers vote by proxy, and it will fully reopen the Capitol to visitors for the first time since the uprising on January 6, 2021, by supporters of the former president, Donald Trump.
And in a dramatic nod to the far right, McCarthy has threatened to investigate Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for impeachment if he doesn’t resign over how the department has handled the U.S.-Mexico border.
Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that “McCarthy’s problem is that he can’t get to 218 without Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Matt Gaetz.” He was talking about the most outspoken far-right members of the House GOP. So, he will do whatever they ask of him.
McCarthy will face a common problem as he tries to win support before the new Congress meets in January. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had her critics when she was trying to get the gavel. She had to pick off the critics one by one until she had enough support.
But McCarthy is facing a problem that only Republicans have and that almost killed his two predecessors. Paul Ryan and John Boehner both lost political support when the GOP’s increasingly far-right wing pushed and prodded them to give in to get their votes. Both men won the speaker’s gavel in the end, but they both left early.
After helping his party win the midterm elections, most of McCarthy’s colleagues voted for him to run for speaker. But the Republicans’ vote of 188-31 showed how far he still needs to go. When the new Congress starts in January, the whole House, both Republicans and Democrats, will vote on who will be the speaker. McCarthy’s party, which has a small majority, will need to stick together for him to win. If not, a different Republican could step up and offer a middle ground.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a former leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who was running against McCarthy for the nomination, said, “It’s a tall order.” Biggs said, “I know he thinks he’s going to get there.” “I’m not sure he can.”
Even though McCarthy beat Biggs 188-31 behind closed doors and five Republicans voted for other candidates, that’s still about 300 votes that the GOP leadership needs to get back if he wants to become speaker. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., another Freedom Caucus member, said, “They know they have a problem.” “In other words, 36 “no” votes are a problem.”
McCarthy has a lot of tools at his disposal as the party leader, such as favors he can dole out to win support, like putting people on key committees or giving them new leadership roles. He can also promise to put lawmakers’ priorities first, like looking into President Joe Biden, his family, and his administration.
The powerful Freedom Caucus has wanted a more bottom-up approach to making laws for a long time. Its members are now putting pressure on McCarthy with more specific demands that would give them more power, even if it means hurting McCarthy. Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming chairman of the Oversight Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he hoped the conference would vote for Kevin at the end of the day.
Comer said, “There are five to eight members who have said they’re leaning toward voting no against Kevin McCarthy.” McCarthy’s bid to become a speaker would fail if he faced that much opposition. The California Republican has been here before. In 2015, when it became clear he didn’t have enough support, he dropped out of the race for speaker.
McCarthy has been meeting with Republicans as they work out their party rules for the new Congress to win over people who aren’t sure about him. Most people don’t care much about these kinds of rules, but they are very important behind the scenes.
For example, some conservatives want McCarthy to ban earmarks, which are a way for lawmakers to send federal money to projects and programs in their home states. This is a perk of being a lawmaker that has been called wasteful for a long time. Others want McCarthy to make sure that the federal budget is balanced in the future, which would mean cutting spending by a lot.
Some of the more conservative members of the House want to bring back a rule that lets any member submit a motion to remove the speaker at any time. This rule was used as a pressure point by then-Rep. Mark Meadows during Boehner’s time as speaker. Instead, they made a rule that a “motion to vacate the chair” could only be made with the agreement of all parties.
McCarthy left a private meeting and said, “That was a great conversation.” He said it’s the start of a long process that will take place over the next weeks. He said, “I don’t know if this is making them like us.” “I think we should talk to them and hear what they have to say.”
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