McCarthy Keeps Making Concessions That Might Make It Harder for Him to Win the Speakership

Typically, political leaders are at their best when they first assume office.

Typically, political leaders are at their best when they first assume office.

The likelihood that Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will receive enough support from his party to be elected House speaker next month is far from certain. However, even before the vote, his position is already eroding and could soon become that of a speaker who is in office but not in authority.

Any party at any time in American history would have a precarious governing mandate with the meager GOP House majority that assumes control in January following a poor midterm performance. Additionally, a more secure majority would have become unstable because of the ideological battle being fought by pro-Donald Trump extremists within the party.

But the concessions McCarthy must make in his increasingly acrimonious bid for the speakership risk turning him into a tool of his conference's most radical members and jeopardizing his ability to keep the position for the long run.

The California Republican is engaged in a rearguard action against lawmakers who want to make it simpler to remove a speaker from office, and he is caving into the extremism of former President Donald Trump and his acolytes, like Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, to protect a small political power base that is supporting his ambition to lead the House.

McCarthy, who was once a charming and smooth-talking rising star in the GOP, has taken on some of the "Make America Great Again" movement's combative defiance, appearing to seek out soundbite fights with the media as badges of pride.

It would take a political genius to control the GOP conference given that he can only afford to lose four votes to be chosen speaker and then enact legislation. Despite McCarthy's widespread support among Republican lawmakers and his extraordinary fundraising abilities, nothing about his professional history suggests that he is a leader of that stature. He actually comes off as less of a heavyweight than former GOP Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, who quit politics due to the difficulty of controlling a raucous Republican majority.

McCarthy is operating in a way that, if politics is the art of the feasible, is most likely to allow him to gain control, even though doing so could force him to violate democratic principles to keep the speaker's gavel from becoming a poisoned chalice.

But his battle to retain the speakership and his potentially fruitless future attempt to assemble a governing majority amount to more than just a kerfuffle within the GOP or in Washington. The economic and social repercussions could soon have an impact on tens of millions of Americans if the House is unable to enact spending measures or if extremist factions of the Republican conference attempt to hold McCarthy hostage. Shutdowns of the government, disagreements over the budget, and a standoff over expanding US borrowing limits could significantly harm the US economy, the readiness of the military, and the dollar's standing as a reserve currency.

One reason the current year-end stalemate over whether to fund the government for a full year - for which a bipartisan framework agreement was announced Tuesday night - or for just a few months is so crucial is that it could dump a fiscal crisis on the lap of a weak and easily manipulated new speaker next month.

McCarthy's Illogical Mathematics

It might be in McCarthy's best interests from a more general political standpoint to oppose the most extremist members of his conference. The relatively moderate seats in states like New York, which would be most vulnerable in the 2024 election, were part of the GOP majority-building process. And in the midterm elections, people in swing states overwhelmingly rejected extremists who supported Donald Trump and denied his election, like those who are currently harassing him. Republicans lost the House in the 2018 election and the White House in the 2020 election, both thanks in large part to the anti-Trump vote.

Therefore, it will be crucial to demonstrate to voters in 2024 that GOP rule addressed vital issues like inflation and the economy. The majority of McCarthy's recent rhetoric, however, has been directed at the conservative movement's desire to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a relentless series of investigations into the Biden administration, despite his announcement that he will create a select committee to look into China's growing threat, which could bring together both parties.

The GOP leader's mindset is understandable. McCarthy's MPs are readily radicalized because of the makeup of the House, which has two-year terms and gerrymandered districts. The greatest threat to their careers frequently comes from more conservative opponents in primaries. Additionally, the House GOP is very conservative overall, despite the fact that Boehner is obviously pandering to the most ardent members of his conference. Two years ago, despite the lack of any evidence of fraud and following the destruction of Congress by Trump's mob, the majority of Republican lawmakers—including McCarthy—voted against certifying Joe Biden's victory.

McCarthy's support of Greene, a Georgia Republican, for her most recent attempt to make light of the pain of the Capitol revolt on Tuesday was indicative of the measures he is taking to try to win the speakership and the potential issues that may follow. The congresswoman had said over the weekend that the riot would have been successful and the mob would have been armed if she had been in command on January 6, 2021. After the White House complained that her remarks were a "slap in the face" to law enforcement and went against fundamental US values, she later clarified that she was being sarcastic.

McCarthy dismissed Greene's most recent divisive remarks when asked about them by CNN's Manu Raju on Tuesday. "Oh, I think she said she was being facetious," the potential speaker responded. His behavior was expected given his attempts to distort the history of the biggest assault on US democracy in modern times, for which he momentarily claimed Trump was to blame.

It also demonstrated Greene's escalating personal influence, as she had aligned herself with McCarthy's speakership rather than with other extreme GOP members. Greene is expected to be one of the most recognizable members of the incoming GOP majority after entering Congress as a fringe character and swiftly losing her committee assignments due to her past retweets of violent statements against Democrats. It speaks a lot about her position that she can express herself in a way that many find insulting and insurrectionist without fear of reprimand from the leader of her party. Additionally, it demonstrates that while Trump's influence may be eroding elsewhere following a weak 2024 campaign launch, it is still strong among his supporters in the House, like Greene.

The same dynamic was at work when McCarthy refrained from criticizing the former president specifically for meeting with white nationalist Nick Fuentes at a dinner that also featured rapper Kanye West, better known as Ye, who has recently made a number of antisemitic comments. After meeting with Biden and other legislative leaders last month, the House Republican leader gave a hysterical performance at the White House where he falsely claimed that Trump had criticized Fuentes four times when in fact he had only done so once.

How McCarthy's attempt to become speaker is influencing the current spending debate

McCarthy's increasing hostility to a year-end funding deal in the lame-duck Congress also demonstrates his understanding that he may never become a speaker if he doesn't appease his most ideological colleagues.

According to CNN's Raju and Melanie Zanona, McCarthy said at the White House meeting that he would be receptive to a sizable cost. McCarthy told his members that he opposed the proposal outright, but Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell worked on it on Tuesday and called it "broadly appealing."

The split not only portends potential future conflicts between McConnell and the Republicans in the House, but it also suggests that some Republican senators may find it politically more challenging to support a spending agreement at this time, especially now that the conservative media has endorsed McCarthy's position.

In the opening days of GOP control of the House, a temporary solution that pushes the problem until early 2019 may set off a massive fight with the White House because GOP lawmakers are adamant about reducing Biden's domestic program and spending plans. Setting up the possibility of such a showdown might be one method to support McCarthy's vote in the speakership race, even though it would be a significant risk for him and could backfire with a national electorate.

Nevertheless, considering that Democrats should be able to pass a more comprehensive funding agreement in the last days of their majority, McCarthy's resistance could give him a political advantage without having any lasting effects. Tuesday's announcement of the framework agreement on an omnibus budget measure by Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and House Democrats increased the likelihood of this.

The fact that there hasn't been a credible challenger to the California Republican's bid for the presidency is one factor working in his favor. Former leader of the Freedom Caucus and Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona has started a long-shot campaign.

McCarthy, though, must endure a tense holiday season.

On Tuesday, Raju questioned him on Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz's assertion that he will never receive the necessary 218 votes.

He responded, "Do you believe Gaetz or do you believe me?"

McCarthy's weakened influence is evident in the fact that there is even a debate about whether the comments of the purportedly most influential Republican in Washington or a renegade member have more weight. This raises the possibility that McCarthy's speakership if he is elected, will be insufficient.

Source: CNN

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