Can Things Be This Bad for Kevin McCarthy?

James Steidl /
James Steidl /

What are the odds that the Republican Party can pull it together enough in the new Congress to actually get something done? The House is probably going to land with a 222-213 majority for the GOP. This slim majority will be similar to what Nancy Pelosi faced with the Democratic majority of the outgoing Congress.

It takes 218 votes to pass a bill, so what that means is if five Republicans decide to defect from the party line, the bill will go south unless the GOP can swing some Democrats across the aisle. But needing Democrats when you can’t get your own party in line is not what you want.

This problem makes the position of the Speaker even more important. The person has to be able to command respect or at least be somewhat feared for the influence they can muster.

Kevin McCarthy is the one the party seems to have chosen. He was challenged for his position by Arizona Representative Andy Biggs, and McCarthy won without a problem by a vote of 188-31.

McCarthy most likely can get 218 GOP votes on most issues, and he has a pretty good relationship with a handful of Democrats who remain in the House. He might be able to garner what looks like some bipartisanship.

There is a chance that McCarthy will struggle to get the Speaker’s gavel. The problem may center on the House Freedom Caucus. They are attempting to trade their support for a guarantee by McCarthy that he will embrace their package of rule changes. These changes will take some power from some of McCarthy’s friends and enable more representatives to be engaged.

So who knows if McCarthy will be willing to bow to their demands, and if he does, what does that mean for the kind of leadership he will be able to display in the future?

Here are some of the demands the House Freedom Caucus is making if McCarthy is going to get their votes:
1. Committees will elect their own chairmen rather than the Speaker appointing them.
2. They will enact a “majority of the majority” rule that legislation passed in a Republican House should be supported by a majority of House Republicans. This will prevent leadership from cutting deals with Democrats.
3. Restore the independence of committees by electing committee chairs based on qualifications and effectiveness.
4. Diversify the Steering Committee allowing all House Republicans to have input on committee assignments
5. Open the process of legislation so that amendments are once again allowed.
6. Block consideration of any other bill until the House can pass an appropriations bill by August 1st.

This is going to be difficult for McCarthy; some have said that most of these demands have already been dismissed by McCarthy. And already, at least five House Republicans have said they will not vote for him, Andy Biggs (AZ), Matt Gaetz (FL), Bob Good (VA), Ralph Norman (SC), Matt Rosendale (MT), and Chip Roy (TX).

Some GOP leaders are signaling that they will work with Democrats to elect an “agreeable Republican” if the Freedom Caucus doesn’t vote for McCarthy. Rep. Bacon from Nebraska is one of them; he sent this message to the HFC, “We’re going to do vote after vote … for Kevin and if they refuse to play ball—that’s why I’m saying we’re willing to work across the aisle to get an agreeable Republican—but we’re not going to get pushed around.”

Here is a worst-case scenario, if six House Republicans vote for Hakeem Jeffries, we could have a House that has a GOP majority, but a Democratic Speaker controlling legislation and appointment.

All of this is so bad for the brand of the GOP. The House Freedom Caucus should not be so bold as to think that McCarthy is going to cave, and the whole party should be thinking about what these next two years could look like.