The debt ceiling deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the weekend immediately drew the outrage of the usual Freedom Caucus suspects. The group, which has been rooting for a default for months, is getting more and more angry by the minute and plotting revenge. Their machinations will kick in Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, the critical first hurdle to a bill moving on to the House floor. This is where one of the deals the Freedom Caucus made with McCarthy to finally give him the votes to be speaker back in January comes into play.
McCarthy gave Freedom Caucus members Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina coveted seats on the Rules Committee to flip them to his side, along with Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who isn’t a caucus member but loves to play spoiler in leadership plans. Now Roy, the apparent leader of the pack, is claiming that McCarthy didn’t just give them those seats: In essence, he gave them control over the committee.
That’s Roy saying that nothing could come out of the Rules Committee—and thus nothing could go to the floor—if all nine Republicans don’t support it. That handshake deal was never made public, though everyone agrees that the deal requires the support of seven of the nine Republicans on the committee for legislation to move. Unanimous support? Nope, say other Republicans.
“If those conversations took place, the rest of the conference was unaware of them. And frankly, I doubt that,” Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota said Monday. “I'm a rules guy. When somebody tells me something has to happen a certain way, the first thing I do is get out the rule book,” Johnson said. “And when I checked, there wasn't a rule that something has to come out of the Rules Committee unanimously.” He’s a “rules guy,” but he isn’t on the committee.
The implied threat from Roy here, of course, is McCarthy’s speakership. The other deal they made with McCarthy was that any single one of them could bring the equivalent of a no-confidence vote, a “motion to vacate the chair,” to the floor at any time. The motion to vacate is particularly potent because it is privileged, meaning that once it’s introduced, it has to be considered. Roy may or may not decide to pull that this week in an attempt to derail the debt ceiling deal, but the threat is there.
It’s not just the far right opposing the deal, though. Slightly less far-right South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace, who has enjoyed a national spotlight since January as a sometimes “moderate,” has announced her opposition.
Mace might have inserted herself in this for the media attention, but nonetheless poses a problem for McCarthy. He doesn’t want to have to rely on a majority of Democratic votes to pass this thing because that will definitely expose him to a speakership challenge, so Mace’s defection is important.
That’s probably why he’s out giving interviews saying bizarre things like this:
No, the deal doesn’t impose work requirements on children. But it’s a real tell that he thinks that would be a selling point for his colleagues.
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