After making substantial concessions to a group of right-wing hardliners who questioned the party’s ability to govern, Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the US House of Representatives early on Saturday.
When Representative Matt Gaetz withheld his vote on the 14th ballot as midnight approached, the 57-year-old Californian was humiliated once more. This sparked a fight in which fellow Republican Mike Rogers had to be physically pulled away.
The most severe dysfunction in Congress in over 160 years came to an end with McCarthy’s victory on the 15th ballot. However, it vividly demonstrated the challenges he will face in leading a small and deeply divided majority.
In the end, he prevailed by a score of 216-212. Six members of his own party withdrew their votes, refusing to support McCarthy as leader or another candidate, allowing him to be elected with less than half of the House’s votes.
McCarthy symbolized the end of the Democrats’ hold on both chambers of Congress under President Joe Biden as he took the gavel for the first time.
“The foundation of our system is checks and balances. In his inaugural address, McCarthy stated, “It’s time for us to be a check and provide some balance to the president’s policies.” His speech outlined a wide range of priorities, including reducing spending, reducing immigration, and fighting culture war battles.
Only after complying with hardliners’ demand that any legislator be able to call for McCarthy’s removal did McCarthy win the gavel. That will severely limit his ability to pass legislation on important issues like funding the government, addressing the nation’s debt ceiling, and other potential crises.
The Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in the midterm elections in November gave them a narrow majority of 222-212, which has given the right-wing hardliners who have opposed McCarthy’s leadership a lot of power.
These concessions, which include drastic spending cuts and other restrictions on McCarthy’s leadership, could point to additional turmoil in the months to come, particularly given that Congress will need to approve a new increase in the $31.4 trillion borrowing authority of the United States.
In an effort to obtain substantial spending reductions, Republicans have, typically unsuccessfully, repeatedly shut down a significant portion of the government and brought the world’s largest borrower to the brink of default over the past ten years.
McCarthy’s willingness to negotiate with President Joe Biden, whose Democrats control the Senate, has been questioned by a number of hardliners. When Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell agreed to compromises, they have raged.
Hardliners like Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry and Texas’s Chip Roy said that the concessions they got from McCarthy would make it easier to use similar strategies this year or force another vote on McCarthy’s leadership if he didn’t live up to their expectations.
“You have changes in how we’re going to spend and allocate money that are going to be historic,” the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Representative Scott Perry, stated.
“When Democrats control the Senate and White House, we don’t want clean debt ceilings to just go through and keep paying the bill without some counteracting effort to control spending.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of those Democrats, raised the concern that the concessions that McCarthy made in order to win the job might come back to haunt him.
Schumer stated in a statement, “Kevin McCarthy’s concessions to the extremists in his party make it far more likely that the MAGA Republican controlled House will cause a government shutdown or a default with devastating consequences for our country.”
In stark contrast to the fights among House Republicans this week, Biden and McConnell appeared together in Kentucky on Wednesday to emphasize infrastructure investments.
After two years had passed since a violent mob stormed Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s election loss, McCarthy won a belated victory one day later.
The number of failed votes for speakership ballots this week was the highest since 1859, during the turbulent years prior to the Civil War.
In 2015, McCarthy’s previous attempt to become speaker failed due to opposition from right-wing groups. Following disagreements with right-wing colleagues, the two previous Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, quit their positions.
Biden’s legislative agenda can now be stopped, Republican priorities on the economy, energy, and immigration can be forced into votes, and McCarthy can move forward with investigations of Biden, his administration, and his family.
However, because McCarthy has made concessions, he will have significantly less authority than his predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. He’ll have a hard time agreeing to deals with Democrats in a divided Washington because of this.
Hardliners will have a tremendous amount of leverage if one member is allowed to call for a vote to remove the speaker.
When inflation and population growth are taken into account, the agreement would set spending limits for the upcoming fiscal year at the same levels as last year.
In light of the fact that the United States is spending money to assist Ukraine in defending itself against an assault from Russia, that might come under fire from Republicans who are more centrist or who have advocated for increased funding for the military.
Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican, stated that he was not concerned that the House would be effectively run by hardliners.
He told reporters, “It’s aspirational.” Our voting cards are still with us.