House Republicans find their groove as challenges loom

After a rocky start to their new majority, House Republicans have gotten in a groove, notching wins that squeeze Democrats and President Biden. But as they approach 100 days in power, with debt ceiling negotiations and major legislation on the horizon, the challenge will be to keep the conference in harmony.

The drawn-out election of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in January had observers wondering whether the caucus could get agreement on major issues with a five-seat majority. Pushback from moderates led to a scramble to get enough votes to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and forced a delay on a border and immigration bill that had been expected to have an early floor vote.

In the last several weeks, though, the House GOP notched some victories in sending legislation to Biden and dividing Democrats.

Biden reversed his position to back a disapproval of D.C. crime legislation — blindsiding House Democrats. The president is also expected to issue his first veto over a House GOP-led measure to nullify a federal rule over considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards in investments.

In committee probes, House Oversight Committee Republicans received long-sought access to the Treasury Department suspicious activity reports concerning businesses connected to Biden’s family members. And Border Patrol chief Raúl Ortiz said at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing that the U.S. does not have “operational control” of the southern border, breaking with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and boosting House GOP arguments that could build a foundation for impeachment of the secretary.

“We've had some big wins,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.). “And it's all rooted in fighting for the families who are struggling and following through on our promises. We ran on a very specific agenda. We talked about addressing inflation and lowering energy costs and confronting crime in communities, and securing the border, and having a parent's Bill of Rights.”

“Our conference is very unified right now,” Scalise added.

Speaker race connected caucus

Members say that as messy as the Speaker race was at the time, it helped to build relationships across factions of the conference. 

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a McCarthy ally who was deeply involved in negotiations during that saga, told The Hill that he did not know hardline Freedom Caucus member Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) very well beforehand. But now, he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for him. 

“It was a healthy exercise of talking to each other and getting to know each other and build more trust,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said of the Speaker election. “The trust we built there is going to continue to pay dividends for us this year.”

Still, high-profile controversies have overshadowed some of the House GOP’s successes. 

McCarthy gave Fox News host Tucker Carlson access to Capitol security footage from Jan. 6, 2021, and Carlson’s use of it to portray the riot as “mostly peaceful chaos” sparked bipartisan outrage. The Speaker has declined to support removing Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) from office over his admitted lies and questions about his finances until investigations into him are complete, breaking with a number of Santos’s House GOP colleagues in New York.

And major legislative issues coming up could test the House GOP’s harmony.

“We've got some really, really challenging things ahead, whether it's [the Federal Aviation Administration funding] bill, the farm bill, FISA authorization – we obviously have the budget and debt ceiling things that are on the horizon,” Graves said. “But I'm confident that we've got a good foundation and we can continue working through these issues with some of these members.”

Budget, debt limit loom large

House Republicans gathered Sunday to start strategizing about what comes next at their annual issues conference in Orlando, Fla., which runs through Tuesday.

One of the top items is certain to be debt limit negotiations. Biden has called on the House GOP to release their budget before engaging in negotiations, but McCarthy has said the White House’s delay in releasing a budget created a domino effect.

The House Freedom Caucus, though, recently released a blueprint for budget cuts as a condition for considering a vote to raise the debt ceiling. While it is likelier to be more aggressive than the House GOP Budget Committee’s eventual plan, the hardline group indicated it is open to negotiation

“One of the big keys is to have that open channel of communication and have all voices heard and for that to be sincere, not just window dressing, but for it to be real,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus. “I know I don't always get my way, but I gotta have a say. And I think if everybody feels like they're given a fair shake, and you know, this is the best thing that we can get under the circumstances, that goes a long way to bringing people on board.”

Those open channels of communication – which include regular meetings with McCarthy and the heads of the caucuses – marks a change from previous GOP Speakers, Perry said.

Energy bill brings a test

Later this month, Republicans will bring a vote on their first major legislative package that McCarthy designated as  H.R. 1: The Lower Energy Costs Act, a sweeping bill led by Scalise aimed at boosting energy production and streamlining the permitting process.

Republicans see boosting energy production as widely popular in the GOP, and one that touches on a number of other priorities. Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, but could mark a starting point in negotiations on potential permitting reform.

“Energy has been at the heart of a lot of the conversations families have been having about the high cost of everything, from inflation to things at the grocery store,” Scalise said.

But even though the issue is popular, the package will test party unity, with members saying there is still work to be done to usher it across the finish line in a slim majority.

“As with most big bills, you're threading a needle. You've got issues all over the place on the right on the left, that you've got to deal with,” Graves said. “So there are still ongoing conversations with a number of folks, making sure that we're striking that right balance.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 footage sparks bipartisan outrage

Fox News host Tucker Carlson whipped up a firestorm Tuesday on Capitol Hill, sparking bipartisan backlash and igniting tensions with Capitol Police by downplaying the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on his prime-time program as “mostly peaceful chaos.”

His show divided Republicans, with a number of GOP senators ripping his portrayal of the incursion at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, who rarely offers opinions on political issues, said the Monday night show was filled with “offensive and misleading conclusions about the Jan. 6 attack.”

“The program conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video. The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments,” Manger wrote in a memo to lawmakers.

“Those of you who contributed to the effort to allow this country’s legislative process to continue know firsthand what actually happened.” 

The segment was the first of two installments planned for this week relying on security footage granted to Carlson by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Carlson was expected to air more clips from the footage during his show on Tuesday evening. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a scathing rebuke of Carlson and Fox on Tuesday, holding up a copy of the memo and saying he wanted to associate himself “with the opinion of the chief of the Capitol police about what happened on Jan. 6.” 

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) holds up a letter from U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger during a media availability following the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. McConnell supports Manger’s view against the released video footage to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson of the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol. (Greg Nash)

“It was a mistake, in my view, [for] Fox News to depict this in a way completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official in the Capitol” described, McConnell said.

It’s an unusual position for the host of one of Fox’s most-watched programs, who, while often a magnet for the ire of the left, seldom gets such direct criticism from those on the right. 

Carlson, who has previously criticized McCarthy on his show, suggested at the start of the year that the new House Speaker release all Jan. 6 security footage in order to win support from detractors threatening to block his path to the gavel. McCarthy later gave Carlson exclusive first access to the footage, but has denied that release came as a result of negotiations for the Speakership.

Though McCarthy and other Republicans said last week that footage released for broadcast would be subject to a Capitol Police security review, and Carlson said as much on his show, Capitol Police said it saw just one of the several clips that Carlson aired on Monday: An interior door that Carlson said was blurred as a result of security concerns.

“We repeatedly requested that any clips be shown to us first for a security review,” Capitol Police told The Hill on Monday. “So far we have only been given the ability to preview a single clip out of the multiple clips that aired.”

A senior GOP aide with knowledge of the process of releasing the footage said the Capitol Police provided a list of what would be considered security sensitive, and only one clip that Carlson wanted to air met that standard, which Capitol Police then cleared.

The same camera angle was released without any blur on the door during the 2021 impeachment of former President Trump.

“We worked with the Capitol Police to identify any security-sensitive footage and made sure it wasn’t released,” McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar said in a statement.

A representative for Fox News declined to comment on Tuesday. 

A number of lawmakers offered pointed and direct criticism of Carlson’s first use of the footage.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), meanwhile, told multiple news outlets said that Carlson’s show on the Jan. 6 footage was “bullshit.” 

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told CNN: “To somehow put that in the same category as a permitted peaceful protest is just a lie.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.)

Sen. Kevin Cramer is among the Republicans that have criticized Tucker Carlson airing Jan. 6 footage. (Greg Nash)

Carlson at the same time won plaudits from other Republicans who have similarly criticized and downplayed the attack. 

“When will judges begin applying justice equally? Doesn’t look like “thousands of armed insurrectionists” to me,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a tweet after thanking McCarthy and Carlson for showing the footage.

“I've seen enough. Release all J6 political prisoners now,” Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) said in a tweet as Carlson’s show aired.

Trump also weighed in on the footage, praising Carlson and McCarthy over its publication and calling the tapes the Fox host played for his audience “irrefutable.”  

Carlson aired the footage after being granted access to the trove of security tapes by McCarthy, prompting outrage from Democrats and pundits who raised concerns that the tapes could threaten Capitol security procedures and amplify conspiracy theories.

Former President Trump

Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. (Greg Nash)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor on Tuesday called Carlson’s show “one of the most shameful hours we’ve seen on cable television,” saying he was “furious” with both Carlson and McCarthy. He called on Fox News and its owner Rupert Murdoch to tell Carlson to not run more footage on Tuesday evening. 

“Speaker McCarthy has played a treacherous, treacherous game in catering to the far right,” Schumer said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who was one of the members on the Jan. 6 committee, is among those who have raised security concerns over the release of the footage, noting it could be used to map the Capitol and the evacuation path of lawmakers.

He called Carlson’s show and conspiracies about Jan. 6 pushed through his documentary a “central part of the GOP agenda and playbook as they try to get Donald Trump elected to the White House again.”

“They didn't even apparently honor their agreement with the Capitol Police to provide the clips in advance. So there can be some attempt to contextualize whatever silly potshots they're taking,” he told The Hill.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)

Rep. Jamie Raskin (Annabelle Gordon)

“The absurd part is they act like their fragmented and disoriented potshots from Capitol security footage are the only documentary record of what happened. There are thousands and thousands of hours that have already been published – not just security footage – but also [by] media that were present and insurrectionists themselves. The whole world was watching and everyone knows exactly what happened. They are involved in a fraudulent enterprise here,” he added. 

Among the unfounded theories Carlson floated in his Monday program were suggestions that federal agents helped incite the violence, though he stopped short of providing evidence to prove it. He also cast doubt on the circumstances surrounding the death of Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick.

It was something Manger deemed “the most disturbing accusation from last night” in asserting his death “had nothing to do with heroic actions on Jan. 6.”  

“The department maintains, as anyone with common sense would, that had Officer Sicknick not fought valiantly for hours on the day he was violently assaulted, Officer Sicknick would not have died the next day,” the chief said.

The top-rated host last year produced and published a multi-part documentary series dubbed “Patriot Purge,” which purported to tell an alternative story of the attack and features at least one subject who suggests the event may have been a “false flag” operation. 

The publication of the tapes also comes as Carlson specifically and Fox more generally are taking intense heat from critics over revelations the company’s top executives and talent embraced and discussed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election on air but privately cast doubt on them. 

“They believed the election they had just voted in had been unfairly conducted,” Carlson said Monday of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. “They were right. In retrospect, it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy, given the facts that have since emerged about that election,” he said. “No honest person can deny it. Yet the beneficiaries of that election continue to lie about what is now obvious.” 

Manger dismissed those conclusions in his Tuesday letter.

“TV commentary will not record the truth of our history books,” he wrote in his letter. “The Justice system will. Truth and justice are on our side.” 

Alexander Bolton contributed.

Capitol Police says it reviewed just one Jan. 6 clip Tucker Carlson showed

U.S. Capitol Police say they saw just one of the many clips from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol that Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired on Monday night, after he was granted access by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“We repeatedly requested that any clips be shown to us first for a security review,” Capitol Police told The Hill on Monday. “So far we have only been given the ability to preview a single clip out of the multiple clips that aired.”

The limited consultation comes after McCarthy said Capitol Police would be consulted before the video aired to address security concerns.

“We work with the Capitol Police as well, so we’ll make sure security is taken care of,” McCarthy told reporters last week.

Carlson said on his show that his team checked with Capitol Police before airing the footage, and that their reservations were “minor” and “reasonable.” 

His show blurred the details of an interior door in the Capitol due to those concerns.

The same camera angle of the door was previously released during the impeachment trial of former President Trump in 2021, without any blurring of the door, picturing senators and staff evacuating.

The disagreement over whether Capitol Police were meaningfully consulted comes as Carlson says he will release more of the roughly 44,000 hours of unseen footage he now has access to. 

A senior GOP aide with knowledge of the process of releasing the footage said that there was coordination with Capitol Police. 

The Capitol Police gave a list of what would be considered security sensitive, the aide said. 

When Carlson’s team picked out the clips to air, only one of those – the clip with the door – was considered to be security sensitive based on that list, and then given to the Capitol Police to review. 

The Capitol Police then cleared that clip, with the details of the door being blurred.

“We worked with the Capitol Police to identify any security-sensitive footage and made sure it wasn’t released,” McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar said in a statement.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, also said last week that the footage given to Carlson to air would be cleared for security purposes.

“It’s basically controlled access to be able to view tapes. Can’t record, can’t take anything with you. Then they will request any particular clips that — that they may need, and then we’ll make sure that there’s nothing sensitive, nothing classified — you know, escape routes,” Loudermilk said.

A representative for Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment. 

“This action clearly does not coincide with promises of safety and security and endangers everyone who visits and works in the Capitol complex,” Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), top Democrat on the House Committee on Administration, which oversees Capitol Police, said in a statement to The Hill. 

During his primetime show on Monday, Carlson aired the first portion of never-before-seen angles of footage from the attack by Trump supporters, downplaying the violence that broke out during the incident describing the scene at one point as “mostly peaceful chaos.”

“‘Deadly insurrection.’ Everything about that phrase is a lie,” Carlson said during his show Monday night. “Very little about Jan. 6 was organized or violent. Surveillance video from inside the Capitol shows mostly peaceful chaos.”

The agreement to consult Capitol Police over the footage comes after Democrats and several who worked on the Jan. 6 panel raised the alarm over the security fallout that could result from sharing the footage.

"When the Select Committee obtained access to U.S. Capitol Police video footage, it was treated with great sensitivity given concerns about the security of lawmakers, staff, and the Capitol complex,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who served as head of the Jan. 6 panel, said at the time.

“Access was limited to members and a small handful of investigators and senior staff, and the public use of any footage was coordinated in advance with Capitol Police. It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were to be used irresponsibly.”

This story was updated at 3:02 p.m.

Finger-pointing flies from lawmakers over Ohio train derailment and spill

Lawmakers are doling out blame and demanding answers on the train derailment in Ohio.

Legislators from both parties are expressing frustration and asking for more to be done, though Republicans in particular have put Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg directly in the hot seat. 

“Secretary Buttigieg is nowhere to be found on this issue. It really is a remarkable thing that he hasn't gone to East Palestine to see what happened there,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on Fox Business this week. “He hasn't come to Congress to explain what happened. For whatever reason, the Secretary seems to fill his days with politics. I know he has aspirations, but he actually has a day job.”

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) floated impeaching Buttigieg over how he has handled the derailment.

"I hope he does resign, and if he doesn't, there's a long list of impeachment criteria,” Davidson told conservative outlet Real America’s Voice Thursday. “I never would have thought we'd see a point where we need to impeach a Secretary of Transportation, but daggon, how many failures have to happen on his watch before we call it?"

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week that the White House has “absolute confidence” in Buttigieg.

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 released chemicals, including toxic vinyl chloride, into the surrounding community, prompting a temporary evacuation. 

State and federal authorities have said that the area’s air and water are now safe, but residents remain fearful and concerned. 

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are questioning Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about why it isn’t providing emergency assistance. 

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who represents East Palestine, led a letter signed by the entire Ohio congressional delegation urging FEMA to provide assistance.

Johnson also told The Hill in a written statement that there may be room for congressional or administrative action once investigations on the issue are complete. 

 “Congress and the administration must take a close look at the findings to determine what policies to modify and/or implement to better prevent anything like this from happening again,” he said. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has called on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to declare an emergency, though DeWine’s office has said that it was told by FEMA that it was not eligible for assistance. 

A FEMA official told reporters Friday that the agency “continues to have ongoing conversations with the governor’s office” on the state’s support needs. Administration officials also emphasized a commitment from Norfolk Southern to pay for cleanup and other costs.

Beyond the issue of FEMA, Republicans have sent mixed messages on water quality.

The state has said testing indicated that municipal water in East Palestine is safe, but DeWine has also told residents to drink bottled water out of an “abundance of caution.”

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has also said that he would drink bottled water; He posted a video on Thursday showing what appeared to be chemicals in a creek, saying there were “dead worms and dead fish all throughout this water.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, traveled to East Palestine and posted a video of himself drinking water that he said came from its taps — saying that he was helping the mayor of East Palestine get the word out that the tap water is safe to drink. 

“What's clear is there is a lot of work to do. I thank the first responders and personnel on site for all their efforts thus far. I will work in a bipartisan effort to ensure our freight rail system is as safe as possible and prevent tragedies like this from occurring again,” Nehls said in a statement.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), too, has criticized the administration’s timeliness. 

“It is unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior Administration official to show up,” he said in a statement on EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s visit to the area. 

DeWine, for this part, called on Congress to take action if it is true that the railroad was not required to notify the state about the chemicals on the train because they were not considered high hazardous materials, Fox 19 reported.

Vance supported the call for labeling the materials as hazardous, though he said that the responsibility lies not only with Congress but also with the Transportation Department. 

“I don’t want to let Congress off the hook here because Congress can legislate a solution to this problem and that’s exactly what I'm going to try to do. We should have some legislation coming out here to that effect in the next few days, but look, the Department of Transportation can act on this issue too. This is a regulatory problem and a legal problem,” he told reporters this past week. 

House Republicans turn southern border into second campus

Republicans are turning the U.S.-Mexico border into something of an extension campus for the House of Representatives.

A two-week recess kicked off a flurry of hearings and visits to the border by multiple GOP-led House committees, with more in the works.

Republicans are looking to place blame on the Biden administration for drug trafficking, national security and the humanitarian crisis as migrant encounters at the southern border remain near record highs.

And they think being on location will help build up public disapproval of Democratic policies.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday visited the border in Cochise County, Ariz., with four freshman House Republicans who flipped Democratic-held seats in 2022: Reps. Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.), Jen Kiggans (Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (Wis.).

Speaking from the property of a rancher with the border fence in the background — the location found by GPS coordinates rather than an address —  McCarthy said the GOP activity at the border is aimed at forcing Democrats to pay attention.

“The new majority in Congress, we're gonna fight to fix this problem. No longer will the Democrats be able to ignore the issue and act like it's not happening,” McCarthy said. “We will have hearings on the border. It’s the responsibility of all members to attend. Those who come to testify will come from both sides of the aisle.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee investigations and health subcommittees held a joint field hearing in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, arguing President Biden’s border policies have contributed to a public health crisis with fentanyl deaths.

Next Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing near the border in Yuma, Ariz. 

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee will go to El Paso, Texas, next week as part of a “border boot camp,” with a focus on educating freshman members on daily operations of Customs and Border Protection and the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a committee source. It plans to hold a hearing at the border in March.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), the new chair of the Homeland Security Committee, wants to hire full-time staff members based on the U.S.-Mexico border. After being selected as chair last month, he told reporters that those staffers will be “sending us real time updates” on issues at the border.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which held a hearing in Washington about the border earlier this month, also plans to travel south for oversight activity in the future.

Border hawks are pleased to see Republicans there in person.

“It's really common sense. It's what leaders do. They go to the heart of the crisis, whether it's a hurricane or tornado, a terrorist attack, it doesn't matter,” Mark Morgan, the former chief operating officer and acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration, told The Hill. “When you physically see it up close and personal, it changes your understanding. It changes your perspective.”

Morgan, who is now a visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, talked about the emotional impact of seeing in person Border Patrol agents interact with migrants. And he criticized White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for commenting last year that “it’s not like somebody walks over” the border.

“That is exactly what they do all day long,” Morgan said. "Had she spent 30 seconds at the border — 30 seconds — she would have seen … It would have changed her understanding; it would have changed her perception.”

But Democrats see the activities as little more than publicity stunts.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose district encompasses parts of Cochise County, paid his own visit to the border Thursday and criticized the tenor of Republicans' focus on the border.

"I don't see this thing as serious, what McCarthy's doing, parachuting in, doing the photo-op, hanging out with the one rancher and Sheriff [Dannels], taking their word as Bible and moving on,” Grijalva told The Hill on Thursday.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels is a favorite witness on border issues for the GOP and a frequent guest on Fox News, but he has been accused by Democrats and immigration advocates of espousing an anti-immigrant agenda.

"I would have gone to the cities and the communities that are on the border. I would have him go and sit down with the people in Douglas, sit down with the people in Nogales, sit down with the people in San Luis and Somerton, sit down with the people in Naco, sit down with the people in Sasabe, sit down with the people that do business on that border, sit down with the families that have been there multi-generationally, sit down with them and talk about their needs and their perception of the border," Grijalva said. 

A White House spokesman on Wednesday dismissed McCarthy’s trip, saying “House Republicans should spend less time on partisan publicity stunts and more time working on solutions.”

And House Judiciary Committee Democrats will not attend next week’s hearing in Yuma.

Ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement subcommittee ranking member Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a joint statement Thursday that there was “no consultation” with Democrats on the hearing, and that many Democratic members had already committed to other congressional delegation trips.

They called it “a brazen act of political grandstanding,” adding, “as a result, Democrats, who have been to the border regularly the last few years, will not attend next week’s performative hearing. Additionally, Judiciary Democrats will conduct their own trip to the border next month where we will hear from the community and government officials on the ground."

The House Judiciary GOP said in a tweet that was “FAKE NEWS,” and Republicans had been in consultation with Democrats for weeks about the trip — sharing a video of comments from Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in the committee’s first meeting to make the minority aware of a planned trip to the border that week.

"They're just scared to face the harsh realities of the #BidenBorderCrisis,” the committee tweeted.

Also looming over the in-person border activities is the potential impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Those calling for his impeachment argue that he has not achieved “operational control.”

McCarthy has not committed to impeaching Mayorkas, saying that impeachment will not be “political.” But in November, he called on Mayorkas to resign or face House GOP investigations — warning that it could lead to impeachment. 

But even as they try to draw attention to the border and take aim at Democrats, Republicans face internal disagreement over legislation to address immigration issues. GOP leaders had planned to quickly bring to the House floor a bill that would allow the Homeland Security secretary to turn away migrants in order to achieve “operational control” at the border. 

Objections from moderates like Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) over the legislation being “anti-immigrant” derailed that plan. 

Republicans are now working on border and immigration legislation that will go through a normal committee process.

“We've got a lot of ideas inside Congress. It’s different than the Congress before,” McCarthy said at the border Thursday. “We're just not going to write the bill and put it onto the floor. We're going to listen to the people that are on the border. We're going to listen to border agents. We want the very best ideas.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.

McCarthy tells Mayorkas to ‘stop lying’ about border

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took aim at Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, fueling an argument that could help lay the groundwork for a potential impeachment.

“This has got to stop. And it starts with the Secretary of Homeland. Stop lying to the American public. Tell them the truth what's happening, and change back the regulation that we had before so our border can be secure,” McCarthy said in a press conference from Cochise County, Ariz., with the border fence in the background.

McCarthy did not specify what he thought Mayorkas lied about, but Republicans have repeatedly dinged him for testifying in a congressional hearing last year that the border is secure.

The issue of whether there is “operational control” at the border is central to the argument from hard-line conservative House Republicans that Mayorkas should be impeached.

That term refers to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, a law that says operational control of the border means prevention “of all unlawful entries” to the United States.

McCarthy has not endorsed impeaching Mayorkas, but in November called on him to resign, saying that House GOP investigations will determine whether they can open an impeachment inquiry.

“What has changed from President Trump to President Biden? There has been no legislation change, but why has the border — why has this region gone from 66,000 people come across to 250,000?” McCarthy said.

The press conference took place on the private property of a rancher.

“His family has found 14 dead bodies on his ranch in just the last couple years,” McCarthy said. "Those are human bodies. He tells the story of his grandson smelling the body. That is different from a dead cow.”

“Why is that happening? Because the administration's policies that is allowing it to happen,” McCarthy said. “When you look at the gaps in the wall. Why are they there? Why are these lights wired but not working? Because we got a new president that said to stop it. We paid for the metal to go up but it's stored far away. There's gaps that allow it to come in. That’s wrong.”

The trip marks McCarthy’s first visit to the border as Speaker. He was accompanied by four freshman House Republicans who flipped Democratic-held seats in 2022: Rep. Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), whose district includes parts of Cochise County; Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.), Jen Kiggans (Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (Wis.).

“There are two people that can really have an immediate impact on the situation in this country, and that's President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas,” Ciscomani said. “They both have failed, and they have shown no interest in fixing this issue. So I invite him here to the border to see what we saw today. Talk to the people that we talked to today and realize what impact this is having in our communities.”

Ciscomani said that the purpose of the trip was not to discuss immigration reform, but to discuss border security.

“These are two different issues and we need to deal with them separately,” Ciscomani said.

House Oversight GOP to feature Border Patrol agents in February hearing

Republicans will turn their focus to the U.S.-Mexico border with a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing featuring four Border Patrol agents next month.

Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) announced the hearing on Thursday, to take place sometime during the week of Feb. 6. Border Patrol agents Jason Owens, Gregory Bovino, Gloria Chavez and Patricia McGurk-Daniel were invited to testify.

“The Biden Administration’s deliberate actions are fueling human smuggling, stimulating drug cartel operations, enabling deadly drugs such as fentanyl to flow into American communities, and encouraging illegal immigrants to flout U.S. immigration laws,” Comer charged in a statement. “Republicans will hold the Biden Administration accountable for this ongoing humanitarian, national security, and public health crisis that has turned every town into a border town.”

Comer separately sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday requesting documents and communications detailing accounting of illegal border crossings, border security plans, changes in certain migration policies, interior enforcement actions and several other matters.

The hearing is the second that the high-profile panel has scheduled. A hearing on waste, fraud and abuse in COVID-19 relief programs is set for Feb. 1.

A focus on the border, which Comer has long said will be a top priority for his committee, comes as several House Republicans are renewing their calls to impeach Mayorkas over his handling of the border. Any impeachment actions would be pursued by the House Judiciary Committee rather than the Oversight panel. 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has called on Mayorkas to resign, but has stopped short of supporting impeachment.

“We can investigate, and then that investigation could lead to an impeachment inquiry. I don't predetermine because I'll never use impeachment for political purposes,” McCarthy told reporters on Monday.

Seven scenarios for McCarthy’s Speakership vote — ranked least to most likely

All eyes are on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he negotiates a fragile path to the Speakership next year in the face of opposition from a handful of conservatives within his own conference.

The Republicans flipped control of the House in last month’s midterms, but their razor-thin majority has empowered the far-right firebrands who are vowing to block McCarthy’s Speakership bid — and are resisting all entreaties to alter course for the sake of party unity.

The entrenched opposition has raised the specter that McCarthy simply won’t have the support he needs to win the gavel when the House gathers on Jan. 3 to choose the next Speaker.

And it’s sparked a number of predictions — some of them more far-fetched than others — about how the day might evolve and who might emerge as the next Speaker if McCarthy falls short.

Here are seven scenarios being floated heading into the vote, ranked from least to most likely:

A Democrat squeaks in 

It’s theoretically possible that discord within the GOP could lead to a Democratic Speaker.

Such a result is very, very unlikely because Republicans will have the majority in the vote and do not want this to happen.

But it is possible — if chaos on the floor prompted frustrated GOP moderates to back a centrist Democrat — that a member of the minority could be elected Speaker.

In fact, it’s one of the warnings that McCarthy and his allies have sounded in recent weeks as they seek to break the logjam of opposition and win him the gavel. 

“If we don’t do this right, the Democrats can take the majority. If we play games on the floor, the Democrats can end up picking who the Speaker is,” McCarthy said in a November Newsmax interview after he won the House GOP nomination for Speaker 188 to 31 over Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.).

The warning, however, is more threat than prospect, as Republicans would never back a Democrat for Speaker after four years in the minority wilderness under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And even McCarthy has seemed to acknowledge that implausibility, by shifting his argument elsewhere in the weeks since.  

House elects a Speaker who is not a member of Congress

House rules do not technically require that the Speaker is a sitting, elected member of House — though every Speaker in U.S. history has been. That leaves open the possibility of members looking for a McCarthy alternative elsewhere.

When conservative House Republicans aimed to mount a challenge to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2014, they tried to recruit Ben Carson, who later went on to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a Pelosi detractor, made a habit of voting for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a supporter of McCarthy, told The Hill last week that there is no other member of the House Republican Conference who can get the support needed to be Speaker. And Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a liberal who’s been open to supporting a moderate “unity” candidate as a last resort, has said it does “not necessarily” have to be a sitting member. 

A moderate Republican wins with backing of some Republicans and Democrats

That is a top worry of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of McCarthy for Speaker.

Greene, who got a seat at the table from McCarthy rather than being made an outcast in the GOP conference, has repeatedly warned that moderate Republicans could flip to work with Democrats and support someone who is not as conservative as McCarthy — and less accommodating.

But Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who has said he’s talked to Democratic members about the possibility of backing an alternative candidate, has said he will only consider such a drastic measure if McCarthy drops out of the race for Speaker after repeated failed votes.

Still, at least one Democrat, Khanna, has expressed openness to backing a Republican Speaker candidate who will take certain measures to open up the House process to give Democrats more power in the minority, like equal subpoena power on committees. It is unlikely that Republicans would agree to such a concession.

Other lawmakers are skeptical of the chances for a bipartisan consensus candidate, saying it would be political suicide, particularly for Republicans.

“Let’s just say 20 of them joined with us to nominate somebody like Don Bacon, or bring Fred Upton back, or whatever,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “Those 20 will be not quite as bad as if they voted for [former President Trump’s] impeachment, but moving in that direction. I just think that they’ll get beat to death." 

McCarthy drops out of Speakership race to make way for consensus pick

Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise

The first time McCarthy sought the Speaker’s gavel was in 2015, to replace the retiring Boehner. That effort ended before the process ever reached the floor.

Faced with conservative opposition, McCarthy stunned Washington by dropping out of the race at the last moment, leaving Republicans scrambling for a viable candidate, who ultimately emerged in the form of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). 

The difference this year is that there is no obvious figure who can easily win the support of both far-right conservatives who want to alter fundamentally how the House functions and the moderates ready to get on with the process of governing. 

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), McCarthy’s top deputy, has been floated as a possible alternative.

But there’s no indication the conservatives would support anyone who didn’t accept the same demands they’re making of McCarthy, including a controversial rule change making it easier to oust a sitting Speaker — a change that would empower the right wing even further.

While Biggs continues his protest challenge to McCarthy, he has teased that there are other Republicans who have privately expressed interest in being an alternative if it becomes clear McCarthy cannot win the gavel.

But Biggs and his allies won’t name names, fearing doing so would put a target on their back.

House agrees to make McCarthy Speaker with a plurality of votes

If the House Speakership election drags on for multiple votes with McCarthy in the lead but not securing enough votes for a majority, the House could agree to adopt a resolution to declare that a Speaker can be elected by a plurality rather than by a majority.

That would require cooperation from Democrats, and it is not clear whether they would support such a resolution.

But there is precedent for the House agreeing to elect a Speaker by plurality, as it has happened twice before in House history.

The first time was in 1849, after the House had been in session for 19 days and held 59 ballots for Speaker. It happened again in 1856, when the House had taken 129 Speaker votes without any candidate winning a majority.

With so much uncertainty, some lawmakers are already bracing for a long day on Jan. 3. 

“I’m obviously observing it from the other side, but all the intel I get from my Republican friends is that: expect it to go late,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). “And I plan to wear my comfortable suit.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), a top “Never Kevin” Republican, floated that the Speaker election could take months — rivaling the longest-ever Speaker election in 1855, which took two months and 133 ballots.

“We may see the cherry blossoms before we have a Speaker,” Gaetz said, referring to the blooms that emerge in March or April in Washington, D.C. 

McCarthy elected Speaker because of Democratic absences

A Speaker is elected by a majority of all of those present and voting, meaning that McCarthy does not necessarily need 218 votes to win the Speakership. If some members are absent or vote “present,” it lowers the threshold from 218.

Pelosi won the Speakership in 2021 with 216 votes due to vacancies and absences. And Boehner also won the Speakership with just 216 votes in 2015, when 25 members did not vote. Many Democrats were attending a funeral for the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) that day.

If the Speakership election drags on and Democrats tire of the repeated ballots, it is possible that Democratic members miss subsequent votes, which could lower the majority threshold just enough for McCarthy to squeak out a victory. 

Illness, weather or other unforeseen circumstances could also affect member attendance on Jan. 3. And because Republicans are planning to eliminate the proxy voting installed by Democrats during the pandemic, lawmakers would not have the option of voting remotely for Speaker. 

In the closely divided House, with 222 Republicans to 212 Democrats and one vacancy, McCarthy needs 218 votes if every member votes for a Speaker candidate. 

McCarthy wins an outright majority of votes

Kevin McCarthy

Many Republicans supportive of McCarthy are optimistic that he will ultimately win a majority of votes without having to worry about Democrats.

These lawmakers see the opposition from hard-line GOP members as little more than political posturing as they aim for concessions on rules changes and tactics

Some members think that McCarthy may even be able to strike a deal with his detractors and win on the first ballot. Others think that once the McCarthy detractors make their point with at least one failed ballot, they might switch votes to allow him the gavel.

Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) compared McCarthy’s situation to that of Pelosi after the 2018 election, when she started off with enough opponents to deny her the Speakership but made enough agreements to earn majority support from Democrats.

“It is not any different. Like, they have a month the jockey and people vote against Pelosi, and ultimately they all get to the point they need to get to. I'm confident we'll do the same,” Moore said. “If I'm blindsided and we're doing 700 rounds and we're here till July, you can come back to me and say, ‘You were wrong.’”

McCarthy said on Fox News on Wednesday that he will have the votes to become Speaker either on Jan. 3 or before then.

“It could be somebody else, but whoever the somebody else is, everyone has a similar problem [with conservatives],” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “Which makes me believe that ultimately he’ll probably pull it together.”

House Republicans ramp up calls to impeach DHS Secretary Mayorkas

House Republicans calling to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas turned up the pressure on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday, with around 20 GOP members and three former Department of Homeland Security officials gathering for a press conference.

The calls to impeach Mayorkas come as McCarthy faces opposition from a handful of GOP members to his Speakership, threatening to derail his bid for the gavel.

"Now that we have the majority in the House of Representatives, I expect our party to pursue impeachment next Congress,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who is running as a protest challenger to McCarthy for Speaker and introduced articles of impeachment against Mayorkas last year.

“Secretary Mayorkas has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. His conduct is not incompetent. It is not negligent. It is willful and intentional,” Biggs said.

Though McCarthy has been highly critical of Mayorkas, he has declined to firmly commit to impeachment for any Biden officials, saying that he will not make impeachment a political exercise. That position aggravated Biggs, whose resolution to impeach Mayorkas now has 32 GOP co-sponsors.

After winning the House GOP nomination for Speaker last month over Biggs, McCarthy traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border and called on Mayorkas to resign or face GOP investigations and a possible impeachment inquiry.

That is not good enough for Biggs, who said in a Washington Examiner op-ed on Tuesday that McCarthy had added “a little thickener to weak sauce — but it’s not good enough.”

Biggs insinuated that McCarthy’s resignation call was a political move, telling reporters that McCarthy did so only “after he knew that he was facing somebody who was going to possibly deny him being Speaker.”

Some of the members at the press conference, though, are supportive of McCarthy for Speaker — including Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), whom McCarthy appointed to the influential Republican Steering Committee, and Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the incoming chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

“You're going to see a lot of sentiment across the conference to have Mayorkas removed from that job and put somebody in to do the job and do it,” Hern told reporters. “Obviously it's not going to happen instantaneously, but you have to point out that issues are out there.”

Republicans’ top driving argument for impeaching Mayorkas is that he has not kept “operational control” of the border as required by law.

When confronted by Republicans in congressional hearings, Mayorkas has maintained that the U.S. does have operational control of the country’s borders — a stance that has only further enraged critics and further fueled calls for impeachment, with Republicans accusing him of lying to Congress.

Republicans also accuse Mayorkas of improperly failing to detain migrants and improperly releasing migrants.

At the press conference, House Republicans were joined by three former Department of Homeland Security officials: cormer acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, former acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan, and former U.S. Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott.

“He has served as this administration’s chief architect of their open border policies that we know has resulted in drugs pouring across our open borders, killing Americans every single day,” Morgan said of Mayorkas.

Pragmatic ‘Main Street’ House GOP caucus urges colleagues to support McCarthy for Speaker

Members of the Main Street Caucus, a group of House Republicans in favor of pragmatic governance, are urging colleagues to support House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for Speaker as he faces opposition from a handful of hard-line conservatives that threatens to keep him from securing the gavel.

“The Main Street Caucus stands unified in support of Kevin McCarthy for Speaker. We firmly urge all our colleagues in the People’s House to join us so that we can immediately begin delivering the common-sense, impactful, and conservative agenda Americans expect and deserve,” members of the caucus wrote in a Wednesday letter to colleagues, first shared with The Hill. 

“A Speaker McCarthy, working closely with the Main Street Caucus and backed by the Republican Conference, presents the most direct path to the House finally answering America’s call for kitchen-table results,” the letter continued. “We are confident the gavel will only elevate his ability to effectively champion and communicate our Members’ policies and priorities. With the solid leadership team our Conference has already nominated, we will advance initiatives by finding common ground rooted in our principles – not by simply compromising beliefs.”

A total of 38 GOP House members signed the letter, led by Main Street Caucus Co-Chairs Don Bacon (Neb.), Mike Bost (Ill.) and Pete Stauber (Minn.).

It marks the second significant letter from a caucus within the House Republican Conference encouraging colleagues to support McCarthy as he works to secure enough support to win the Speakership. Last week, members of the more moderate Republican Governance Group, formerly known as the Tuesday Group, urged House Republicans to “put posturing aside” and support McCarthy for Speaker.

McCarthy was nominated to be Speaker by the House GOP conference last month, but must win a majority of all those voting on Jan. 3 in order to take the gavel. Because Republicans will have a slim majority of 222 to 212 Democrats and one vacancy, just a handful of GOP opponents could keep him from securing a majority.

Five conservative House Republicans with a reputation for embracing confrontational tactics have explicitly said or strongly indicated they will not support McCarthy on Jan. 3: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.) and Bob Good (Va.). Several others have declined to say whether they will vote for McCarthy. 

Criticisms from opponents include charges that McCarthy is resistant to rules changes that would empower individual members and that he is unwilling to fully promise impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, though McCarthy has called on Mayorkas to resign or face a potential impeachment inquiry.

The Main Street letter blamed Democratic control of Congress for “a striking decline” in constituents’ quality of life.

“Now, our constituents demand viable solutions focused on lowering costs across the board, maximizing economic growth and opportunity, fiscal responsibility, safety at home and abroad, more efficient government, and freedom. This upcoming speakership election is our opportunity to gather together and light the right path for America,” the letter said.