The dysfunctional dance taking place in the House between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his right flank has pushed me to consider something I never imagined possible: that Matt Gaetz is right.
A Speaker of the House can only succeed with the trust of the members who appointed him to lead, when he can keep the promises made and the concessions obtained. Indeed, there is perhaps no position in the U.S. government that requires more contract negotiation skills than that of president: so many egos, alliances, and grievances to successfully move forward things.
Mr. McCarthy, in his desperate quest for the presidency last winter, made willy-nilly promises to the small right-wing group in the House, and he will now rise and fall depending on how he handles those commitments and promises. expectations. So far, things aren’t looking good for Kev — and, by extension, for a functioning Congress.
Miffed by the president’s handling of the spending fight, right-wing hardliners have threatened to oust him, shut down the government or both. His attempt to appease them by announcing an impeachment inquiry into President Biden went poorly, prompting several Freedom Caucuses to chastise him for trying to buy them off. Mr. Gaetz, the Florida congressman and leader of the rebels who temporarily blocked Mr. McCarthy’s presidency in January, called the move a disingenuous “small step” and accused him of failing to honor his commitments to the hardliners and threatened to force daily votes to vacate the chair, i.e. impeach him. All of which apparently sent Mr. McCarthy into a profanity-laced tirade during a closed-door conference Thursday that several attendees said boiled down to (and here I’ve filed it away to be family-friendly): If you want to file a motion for annulment, file the motion for reversal!
The speaker is clearly tired of being harassed by his radicals. But here’s the problem. Gaetz & Company is right: Mr. McCarthy East in breaking many of its promises – or at least several that they claim to have made. (That’s the problem with backroom secret deals.) So if the agitators want to be taken seriously in the future, they need to stop all this chest-thumping. It’s time to step in and file the reversal motion.
Extremists are easy to denounce, especially with their tendency to behave like unruly teenagers — or like Lauren Boebert from “Beetlejuice.” But they are not responsible for the chaos ravaging the House. It was Mr. McCarthy who made them believe he would defend their policies and priorities. And it was Mr. McCarthy who increased their influence within the conference, allowing them to sow even more damage. Of course they will make more and more scandalous demands. That’s what they do.
Some of Mr. McCarthy’s commitments were beyond his capabilities. Take for example the ongoing confrontation over government funding. He pledged to try to cap discretionary spending at 2022 levels or lower. But with the Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, this is going nowhere. Worse still, Mr. McCarthy has effectively given hardliners the right to play chicken with the debt ceiling. No wonder they were furious when he struck a debt deal with Democrats in May.
Perhaps the key word for Mr. McCarthy in these promises was “try.” Perhaps he thought that as long as he let the rebels do their best, they would give him time even if they failed to prevail. If that were the case, their indignant and fiery reaction to the debt deal should have disabused everyone of the idea. At this point, Mr. McCarthy really should have started adjusting his strategy – and the expectations of hard-liners – accordingly. Instead, he redoubled his efforts to coddle them, encouraging them to move forward with imaginary spending cuts. The latest proposed stopgap bill to keep the government running through October, introduced Sunday by House Republican leadership, was criticized Monday by a dozen House Republicans, dimming its chances of winning. ‘adoption.
Other McCarthy promises involved pieces of partisan theater. Mr. Gaetz says the rebels were guaranteed a vote on term limits, something Mr. McCarthy probably could have made time for over the past eight months. But he did not do it. Because he doesn’t care about the priorities of the radicals. He just aims to keep them calm enough to keep his hammer.
Do I support hardliners getting what they want on political issues like…well, anything? Hell, no. Their revanchist vision of America is not the one that I – or indeed the majority of voters – share. But I understand their frustration and their anger. Mr. McCarthy created and unleashed this right-wing monster to serve his own ambitions. And yet he seems baffled that he’s destroying things and demanding his dues.
Of course, there are practical reasons why Gaetz et al. might choose not to start the speaker. For all their bluster, he may be the best they could hope for. He won’t give them everything they want, but he’s willing to be their dancing monkey in many situations. At the same time, he gives the conference enough sheen of respectability to retain the support of its supporters and not terrify more moderate voters. Arguably few other House Republicans could or would follow this demeaning line.
It is often said that this speaker made a pact with the devil. But the conference’s hardliners became one with a cynical and fickle opportunist. They clearly suspect that their elusive leader never intended to achieve a whole host of things they care about, just as they know deep down that such a hollow individual is fundamentally not trustworthy. But until someone is willing to move on from this impasse, we’re all stuck in their twisted, codependent relationship.