House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heads into this week on very shaky ground. The wannabe speaker will have a tiny majority—four or five seats, depending on the result in the last uncalled race un California’s 13th District. He’s already got five GOP opponents of his speakership, enough to scuttle it.
That could mean the first floor fight for speaker in exactly 100 years, when Republican Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts had to undergo nine votes over a number of days, with a lot of negotiations and many concessions along the way. The leader of the breakaway Republicans, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, challenged McCarthy in the full GOP conference vote for speaker earlier this month and isn’t going to stop fighting.
“He doesn’t have the votes,” Biggs, a leader of the Freedom Caucus, told NBC News. “Some of the stages of grief include denial, so there will be some denial, and then there’ll be the stage of bargaining where people are trying to figure out … will there be some kind of consensus candidate that emerges.”
Biggs and his cohorts—Reps. Bob Good of Virginia, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Matt Rosendale of Montana—are all publicly opposing McCarthy. Good told Politico that he thinks there are at least a dozen who are solid “no” votes. The tally from that secret balloting in the GOP conference was 188-31. That’s a long way from the 218 McCarthy’s going to need, and a lot of bargaining that Democrats are already branding as “corrupt.”
A nonprofit group called Facts First USA, chaired by former GOP Rep. David Jolly of Florida and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, has a memo circulating among Democrats to highlight just how much McCarthy’s going to cave to the maniacs in order to emerge victorious. The messaging in the memo could play to the Republican moderates, who could definitely play the spoiler role in this fight.
“Democrats should undertake a concerted messaging campaign over the next 5 weeks through January 3rd to brand McCarthy’s struggling campaign to win the speakership as a ‘corrupt bargain’ he is striking with ultra MAGA extremists in the Republican caucus to attain the 218 votes he needs to secure the job,” longtime Democratic activist David Brock wrote in the memo.
That’s not going to be hard, looking at what happened on Day One of the GOP majority. That was the day of the press conference from Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the expected Judiciary Committee chair, about their investigation into the Biden family and the whole QAnon Hunter laptop thing they’re into. Brock labeled it an “unhinged rant” in his memo, and he wasn’t wrong.
It’s not going to be at all difficult for Democrats to use this messaging, that McCarthy is going to make a “corrupt bargain with MAGA” maniacs and allow them to “run wild with any conspiracy theory investigation or impeachment in exchange for their vote.” We’re already there. He’s made the unofficial Q spokesperson, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a part of his ad hoc leadership team and probably promised her a seat on the Oversight committee. Her pal Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, the white supremacist whisperer, is likely going to get his Oversight seat back—the one that was stripped in the current Congress because he is so dangerous.
Meanwhile, Democrats are in total array as the leadership passes from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a new generation. They’re also relishing the prospect of watching the GOP civil war play out after McCarthy and crew did their best to derail Pelosi’s very slim—and very successful—majority of the past two years.
“They’re going to be fraught with fractures and friction and challenges and apostates. I wish them well in trying to manage that crowd,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia in a Politico interview. He predicted even worse problems for McCarthy than his predecessors faced. “Paul Ryan and John Boehner both had a bigger majority, and they couldn’t exercise control.” And they both were essentially forced out by the maniacs.
The good part, should House and Senate Democrats manage to get as organized and efficient together as possible, is that McCarthy and crew shouldn’t be able to create a lot of damage legislatively. “I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the bad legislation they are going to pass. Because I don’t think they’re going to pass it,” said Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia.
What’s going to make life even harder for McCarthy is his pledge to end proxy voting in the House. It’s been effect for almost all of this Congress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. McCarthy can’t not end it at this point—he had such a hissy fit over it he took it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to even hear it. He’s got to end it, and that means that on any given day, he would have even fewer votes available to accomplish anything.
Unless he strikes a bargain with moderates and Democrats, assuming he does end up with the speakership. It’s just possible that the corrupt bargain label sticks hard enough to McCarthy that moderates hold out and vote with Democrats on an alternative speaker. It’s not terribly likely, but it’s also not impossible.
Those 31 votes McCarthy didn’t get in the secret ballot aren’t all Freedom maniacs—a big chunk could be up for grabs to allow that 218 votes to go to a consensus candidate from Democrats and the few dozen GOP moderates. Now wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?
As the final results of the 2022 midterm elections came into focus this past week, the lack of clarity in the GOP’s leadership also became apparent. Kerry and Markos break down what this means for Democratic voters going forward and how Donald Trump’s campaign for president is a lose lose proposition for Republicans.