The Freedom Caucus failed to cause an economic catastrophe by forcing the nation into default. They couldn’t get organized enough to challenge Kevin McCarthy’s speakership, partly because no one else wants the job. So they’ve resorted to the one thing they can achieve: They shut down the House of Representatives. The procedural stunt they pulled on Tuesday kicked off a rebellion that has prevented the House from doing anything of substance for the remainder of the week. A defeated McCarthy gave in Wednesday evening, sent everyone home for the weekend, and worsened his leadership crisis by blaming the whole mess on his number two, Majority Leader Steve Scalise. He’s made a very big mess for himself.
On Tuesday, 11 of the rebels pulled their surprise, voting with Democrats to defeat the procedural vote that set the rules for a couple of bills that were supposed to come to the floor. This is always a party-line vote. The minority always unanimously votes against it, the majority always unanimously votes for it, by rote. This was the first time in 21 years that a rule vote was defeated. Since then, the group has dug in and refused to agree to allow any bill to move to the floor until they get concessions from McCarthy.
McCarthy’s self-proclaimed great “victory” on the debt ceiling is now history. His effort Wednesday to try to gloss this over as a spat that would make his next wins even bigger and better has been exposed as so much hot air. He made everything worse by turning on his own leadership team. “The majority leader runs the floor,” McCarthy told reporters, insinuating that Scalise had screwed up.
It’s Scalise’s fault, he insists, pointing to one of the beefs the maniacs brought up as a cause for their rebellion. Rep. Andrew Clyde, Georgia, has a controversial gun bill that Scalise has agreed to bring to the floor. According to Scalise, he’s been whipping it but hasn’t found enough votes. According to Clyde, Scalise threatened to never allow a vote on the bill if Clyde didn’t support the team on the debt ceiling.
The real problem, according to Scalise, is the promises McCarthy made to the extremists to get to be speaker. The maniacs say McCarthy broke those promises with the debt ceiling bill. The reality—and Scalise points this out, too—is that no one but McCarthy and that crew know what those promises were. Not having it in writing, not having it in public, and not even cluing anyone else in leadership in on the deal means that the Freedom Caucus can make up any damned thing and say McCarthy promised it.
“So I still don’t know what those agreements were. Whatever they are, [conservatives] feel that the agreements were broken. That’s got to get resolved. Hopefully it does,” Scalise said. So either McCarthy dealt in total secrecy, not even telling his leadership team the constraints they were operating under with the extremists, or the relationship between these two is so bad Scalise would lie about it.
McCarthy also created this mess by telling everybody what they wanted to hear back in April, to get the House’s original debt ceiling bill passed. The bill was essentially the Freedom Caucus’ wish list for American dystopia, and plenty of regular Republicans didn’t like it. McCarthy essentially told them that this bill was just symbolic, that it was important for the team to get something passed to force President Joe Biden into negotiations with them. It would never become law, he said. Meanwhile he was telling the Freedom Caucus that he would hold tough on their bill, and not agree to a “watered-down version.”
The problem here is no one can be trusted to be operating in good faith. McCarthy has clearly lied to get what he wanted—first the speakership and then a debt limit deal. The Freedom Caucus people will lie about anything and everything just because. The rest of the Republicans can’t trust the maniacs, but McCarthy has also proven that they can’t trust him either. Neither can his own leadership team. That leaves the House in chaos. As it stands, nothing can move forward until the handful of extremists allow it.
McCarthy has two choices: He can cave and give the Freedom Caucus total control of the House, or he can try to form a coalition government with the Democrats. If he chooses the former, he’s opening himself up to more extortion. His second choice, to appeal to the more moderate voices in his conference and work with the Democrats, depends on whether the Democrats are willing to help him out. They shouldn’t do so without some guarantees locked in, because by now everyone knows McCarthy can’t be trusted.
Two-faced McCarthy on full display in debt ceiling showdown
Freedom Caucus bites back
Kevin McCarthy is between a rock and a hard place. Good
This week on "The Downballot," we're joined by guest host Joe Sudbay and law professor Quinn Yeargain for a deep dive into major political developments in three states. First up is Arizona, where a key GOP retirement on the Board of Supervisors in jumbo Maricopa County gives Democrats an excellent chance to win their first majority since the 1960s. Then it's on to Arkansas, where citizens are working to overturn a Republican bill that purports to ban "critical race theory" in public schools by qualifying a referendum for the ballot. Finally, we hit Michigan, where Democrats just advanced a measure to have the state add its Electoral College votes to a multistate compact that would elect the president by the national popular vote.