House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s dream job could turn into a nightmare
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©Reuters. Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) looks down at Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) shortly after things got physical between Republican representatives on the House floor as the House of Representatives voted a 14th Round of 2 until late at night /2
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kevin McCarthy woke up Saturday morning with a long-held dream fulfilled: after a four-day standoff, he was elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives and the most powerful member of the Republican Party.
But this role could turn into a nightmare because it requires the leadership of a faction that strongly opposes leadership. Conservatives have regularly angered Senate Republican Mitch McConnell for agreeing to compromises of any kind with Democrats, and earlier this week dismissed former President Donald Trump’s call for a quick rally behind McCarthy.
The 57-year-old Californian showed tenacity, pushing through 15 rounds of voting and dissecting a squad of 20 right-wing hardline opponents, finding compromises that would draw most of them to his camp. He told reporters Friday night that the lengthy process would make him a more effective leader.
“Because it took so long, we have now learned how to govern. So now we can get our work done,” McCarthy said. “At the end of the day we will be more effective, more efficient and government will definitely be more accountable.”
McCarthy agreed to big concessions to secure a role second only to the Oval Office behind Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, including a rule that means each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives can force a vote to impeach them at any time can.
The Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in November’s election left them with a slim majority of 222 to 212 and gives a small group of right-wing hardliners outsized power. They railed against McCarthy, who has served as minority leader since 2019, and accused him of being soft and too open to compromise with President Joe Biden and his Democrats, who also control the US Senate.
“We don’t give Mr. McCarthy any power because we know who he’ll use it for. And we’re concerned it won’t be for the American people,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, who inflicted final humiliation on McCarthy on Friday night when he cost him the penultimate vote by withholding his support.
But compromises will be necessary in a divided government, and McCarthy’s concessions raise the risk that the two parties might fail to reach an agreement when the federal government hits its $31.4 trillion debt limit later this year. Failure to reach an agreement, or even a prolonged standoff, could result in a default that would rock the global economy.
McCarthy shrugged that the deal could weaken his power.
“It doesn’t give me any problems or concerns,” McCarthy told reporters, describing his deal with critics as a “very good” deal that “empowers members.”
He also agreed to deep cuts in government spending to achieve a balanced federal budget 10 years from October, and promised his hard-line critics greater leverage on key committees.
The weeks-long standoff over his candidacy has given heart to individual lawmakers at a time when the thin Republican majority concedes he could lose no more than four votes to pass legislation.
McCarthy has spent his adult life in politics, first as a congressional staffer and then as a representative before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2006. He ran unsuccessfully for the post of spokesman in 2015 and the election marks the high point of his career.
But the post of speaker has proved a formidable challenge for Republicans in recent years, with John Boehner stepping down from office in 2015 after a battle with rebellious conservatives.
Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, a frequent target of conservatives, decided not to run again in 2018 as then-President Trump shifted the party focus from Ryan’s fiscal priorities to issues of immigration and the culture war.
McCarthy clashed with hardliners when he publicly admitted that Trump bore responsibility for the deadly attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, days after the violence. He later repeatedly expressed his loyalty to the former president.
On Saturday, Trump sought recognition for the choice of the new spokesman, posting a video on his Truth social network of McCarthy thanking Trump for his support and captioning it, “Thanks Kevin. It was a great honor for me.”
The White House said Biden spoke to McCarthy on Saturday to congratulate him.
McCarthy visited at least 34 states to campaign for more than 165 candidates ahead of the midterms. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an affiliated group, donated more than $160 million to help Republican House candidates. McCarthy sent the candidate $6.5 million from his own campaign and four other entities under his control, according to his campaign team.
But in order to achieve the speakership, he also agreed not to interfere in future Republican primaries, even if that meant promoting candidates he believed were more likely to win a general election than right-wing rivals.
“Kevin is a good man. He’s a man of God,” Republican Rep. Mike Garcia said Friday in a speech at McCarthy’s nomination. “He’s a patriot. He is a leader who has brought this conference to our current majority for the past four years. These things are unassailable.”