Jim Hartman: Speaker McCarthy and the GOP Chaos Caucus

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman

Early last Saturday morning, Kevin McCarthy finally won enough votes to become speaker of the U.S. House on the 15th roll call.

When the House met to organize itself on Jan. 4, a rump Republican faction blocked McCarthy’s elevation to become speaker. After four days of intra-GOP stalemate – and embarrassment – McCarthy ultimately prevailed.

Twenty Republicans had refused to budge despite being outvoted 10-1 by their GOP colleagues.

The Republicans who voted against McCarthy included some of the most hard-right lawmakers in the House.

Nineteen of the 20 holdouts are members of the far-right Freedom Caucus.

Twelve of the 20 who voted against McCarthy denied the results of the 2020 election. These Republicans said the election had been stolen or rigged – or that Donald Trump was the rightful winner.

The rebels offered no plausible alternative candidate, nominating a variety of different candidates on successive ballots, including Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who didn’t want the job.

Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich said Republicans were contending with a band of “deranged disrupters” in the House.

Voters elected a Republican House to be a check on the Biden administration. They wanted an end to the anarchy on the southern border and to pressure Democrats on spending, inflation and energy production.

The fringe holdouts have a history of preferring combative sound bites – and government shutdowns – to actually governing. The political reality: The GOP House majority is historically narrow (222-212) and Democrats still control the Senate and White House.

For there to be any conservative policy victories over the next two years, it will be necessary to compromise.

The problem McCarthy faces now is the 20 fringe holdouts don’t really want to govern. They much prefer being in opposition where it’s easier because no compromises are required. They can rage against “the swamp” and practice purist peacock politics.

That’s the hard truth behind the challenge to McCarthy.

It was true for John Boehner, who became speaker in 2011 and was ousted in 2015, and for Paul Ryan who took over and left in 2018. Both departed in frustration with the growing chaos caucus.

McCarthy repeatedly tried to placate the far-right bomb throwers who will never be satisfied with anything less than complete capitulation.

The most glaring example of his appeasement: On Jan. 6, 2021, McCarthy reportedly spoke honestly to President Trump about the rioters in the Capitol: “They’re trying to f--- kill me!” A few weeks later McCarthy changed his tune and went to Mar-a-Lago to get back into Trump’s good graces.

McCarthy won but his victory came at a high price.

The spin that this was a healthy “exercise in democracy” is false. This was a power play.

The group of 20 holdouts saw the opportunity to exploit the narrow five-seat GOP majority.

McCarthy reportedly gave away powerful Rules (two seats) and Appropriations Committee assignments, leapfrogging members with more seniority.

Will Nevada’s sole House Republican, Rep. Mark Amodei, a long-standing member of the Appropriations Committee and McCarthy loyalist, be impacted?

McCarthy’s rumored agreement to cap FY2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels would significantly reduce defense spending when the U.S. 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 hostage to anyone who wants to cause trouble or grandstand to fund-raise.

It will be used by fringe members to extort concessions on legislation. The gang of 20 extremists proved the tail of the chaos caucus 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 wave last November.

In combination with McCarthy’s myriad concessions, Trump’s late calls to the last “Never Kevins” did the trick. All six voted “present” allowing McCarthy to become speaker with 216 votes.

E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.

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