McCarthy Is Our First Ceremonial House Speaker - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
McCarthy Is Our First Ceremonial House Speaker
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Jan. 7, 2023 (ABC News/YouTube)

When House clerk Cheryl Johnson declared at 12:38 a.m. Saturday morning, “The Honorable Kevin McCarthy of the state of California, having received a majority of the votes cast, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives,” a lot of Republicans breathed a sigh of relief. But the bargain McCarthy was forced to make with a rump caucus of the GOP conference means that his ultimate election on the 15th ballot was, at best, a pyrrhic victory.

Later that morning, a key leader of the rump caucus, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), tweeted this: “The juice was worth the squeeze – we fought for and secured agreement on major reforms ending the unacceptable status quo in Washington.” Sadly, they secured nothing of the sort. With some exceptions, the concessions extorted from McCarthy are meaningless while the Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Even worse, they are clearly meant to render the speaker virtually powerless. As Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told CNN:

The construct of these rules concessions functionally turn the speakership into a ceremonial position … If my colleagues get what they want for McCarthy, the chairman of the freedom caucus will actually be more important than the speaker of the House. You will have to live the entirety of the speakership in a straitjacket, constructed by these rules that we’re working on now.

Some of the concessions are reasonable, such as a pledge to pass “single subject bills” and to require that House members are given at least 72 hours to read bills before they can be submitted for a vote by the full chamber. Another sensible concession guarantees the creation of a Church-style committee to look into the politicization of the FBI. Several of the concessions are harmless because they aren’t going anywhere, including one that promises a floor vote in the House on a constitutional amendment requiring term limits.

By far the worst concession extorted from McCarthy involves what Perry describes as a “Jeffersonian Motion to vacate the Chair.” The rule will allow a single House member to introduce a motion to remove the speaker if he “goes back on his word.” Though not unprecedented, this rule has been the subject of a heated debate within the Republican conference, 90 percent of whose members are against it. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) was characteristically blunt when asked for a comment on the debate by CNN:

You can’t govern with a gun to your head and that is what they are asking for. It makes us highly unstable, and it lays out the potential too for Democrats to take advantage of this and create absolute chaos…. There is a reason people are against it. You can scream the word accountability all you want … in the end it’s just a path to chaos, not stability, and we are going to have to be very united and very stable if we are going to govern properly.

The claim that this rule change is merely a return to regular order ignores the realities of the narrow GOP majority. The new speaker still has at least six “Never Kevin” insurgents in his conference. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Bob Good (R-Va.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), and Gaetz all responded “present” during the roll-call vote that finally put McCarthy over the top. It’s a virtual certainty that some of these characters will propose motions to vacate during the next two years.

This was tacitly confirmed Sunday morning by another rump caucus leader, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), during an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN. Tapper asked Roy if he would vote to vacate the speaker in the event that McCarthy strays from the stipulations of his deal with the rump caucus. The congressman answered, “I’m not going to play the ‘what if’ game … but we will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreement.” Such threats are regarded with dismay by observers such as the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker:

Republicans need to get a grip—and fast—or they, and we, are going to lose the ability to halt this country’s march to the left for a decade or more. The lessons of history couldn’t be clearer. Divided parties lose elections. Parties that indulge their most unrepresentative dogmatists alienate the rest. Parties that put ideological purity over governing become neither ideologically pure nor any longer in government.

And, despite the happy talk we have heard from some conservative commentators suggesting that the speakership fight was a healthy demonstration of democracy in action, it was not. It was instead the cynical exploitation of the GOP’s narrow majority by 10 percent of the Republican conference who regard themselves as the only real conservatives in the party. They publicly disparaged McCarthy, dismissed the 90 percent of their conference who voted for him as RINOs, and demanded seats on powerful committees for themselves.

For now, these people have what they wanted. The speakership has been reduced to a ceremonial position, and they wield far more power on House committees than their numbers justify. Now they must prove that they can govern with the narrow majority they were so anxious to control. Then they will know if “the juice was worth the squeeze.” If not, they won’t get much sympathy, and they certainly won’t be able to blame Kevin McCarthy.

David Catron
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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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