Control of the U.S. House of Representatives hasn’t even been decided yet, and already it’s knives out for current GOP leader Kevin McCarthy. There are still a few dozen uncalled races in the House. The path to a Democratic majority is a little murky, but not impossible. The path for McCarthy to be speaker is turning out to be deliciously treacherous, and his prospects for getting anything done next to nil.
McCarthy announced his bid for the top spot in a letter to the conference Wednesday declaring: “We have ended one-party Democrat rule in Washington by effectively prosecuting the case against their failed policies while detailing our plan for a new direction with the Commitment to America.” Sure, Kev. That was immediately greeted by Freedom Caucus maniac Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona saying, “maybe not so fast. Maybe we should have a good discussion within the confines of our internal body.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida piled on. He’s been making calls to whip GOP lawmakers to vote against McCarthy, according to anonymous sources to the right-wing Washington Examiner. “Just as I have done after every election, you can count on me having conversations with my colleagues on matters of policy, politics, and leadership,” he said in a statement. McCarthy might be wishing he’d done something about the alleged child trafficker before now,
Outside groups are getting in on the fight, too. FreedomWorks, the right-wing “nonprofit” that spearheaded protests against public health efforts to save lives in the pandemic, put McCarthy on notice with their list of demands. At the top is rule changes, including reinstating the Motion to Vacate the Chair, the parliamentary rule that allows any member of the House to call for a vote to remove the speaker. That’s the maneuver the Freedom Caucus, led by then-Rep. Mark Meadows (Trump’s coup co-conspirator and chief of staff) used to oust Speaker John Boehner back in 2015. He resigned rather than face that no confidence vote.
That’s a direct threat from the Freedom folk to McCarthy. “The conservative conscience of the House Republican Conference, the House Freedom Caucus, is proposing common-sense rules that will help restore integrity in the legislative process,” FreedomWorks said in their press release. “We hope that those running for leadership positions and the members of the House GOP will get behind the Freedom Caucus’s proposals.”
This isn’t as much about keeping McCarthy out of the top spot as it is telling McCarthy they’re going to be in control. They are setting the terms under which they’ll lend McCarthy the 218 votes he needs to get the gavel, but he’s going to have to play by their rules to have 218 votes to do anything with it. It’s a potent threat, because with a majority as small as he’s likely to get, corralling them is going to be a nightmare. It’s also going to be logistically nightmarish.
One of the things McCarthy has sworn he’ll do—and FreedomWorks is telling him he must—is end proxy voting, the pandemic measure that allowed the House to conduct business and keep members safe at home. On any given vote, it’s likely that every single lawmaker would need to be there to get anything passed.
That, by the way, will also be true for Democrats if they get the majority. But they’d likely keep proxy voting in place as long as the public health emergency for COVID allows. On any given day, half a dozen lawmakers could be absent for any number of reasons. There are 435 of them—perfect attendance by all of them all of the time is not possible.
The Freedom maniacs know that very well, and they’re telling McCarthy just how short a leash they’re going to keep him on.
Holy crap, what an amazing night! Where do we even begin this week's episode of The Downballot? Well, we know exactly where: abortion. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap Tuesday's extraordinary results, starting with a clear-eyed examination of the issue that animated Democrats as never before—and that pundits got so badly wrong. They also discuss candidate quality (still really important!), Democratic meddling in GOP primaries (good for democracy, actually), and "soft" Biden disapprovers (lots of them voted for Democrats).