Speaker McCarthy ousted: Is GOP House ungovernable?

Speaker McCarthy ousted: Is GOP House ungovernable?

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Yet today’s drama can be seen as the inevitable outcome of one of those promises Mr. McCarthy made back in January – allowing a single member to force a vote on removing the speaker. With just a four-seat Republican House majority, that put Mr. McCarthy at the mercy of a handful of individuals with outsize leverage.

More broadly, some observers wonder if Republican House leadership faces an impossible dynamic. Divided government by definition requires bipartisan compromise, yet the right wing insists on an uncompromising stance.

“Can you create a durable partisan majority? Maybe the answer is no,” says Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University. “There is a faction of Republicans now in the House who are willing to use all the tools available to block the agenda and undermine the policy process. When you combine that with the narrow majority, this is what you get.”

“Need a marriage counselor”

Some Republicans praised Mr. McCarthy’s ability to get anything done under those circumstances.

“With the slim majority that we’ve had so far, Kevin McCarthy has been a miracle worker,” GOP Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri said on CNN ahead of today’s votes. “We need a marriage counselor, basically, in our conference.”

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After the speaker of the House was “hereby declared vacant” in Tuesday’s vote, the clerk declared North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, a top McCarthy confidant, as speaker pro tempore. The choice comes from a succession list Mr. McCarthy submitted when he won the gavel. What comes next could be a period of confusion – an uncertain search for a new speaker whom a majority of House members can support. America has never been here before. 

Although a “motion to vacate” has been filed three times in the history of Congress, today’s vote marks the first time a speaker has been removed via the measure. In 1910, Republican Speaker Joe Cannon introduced a motion to vacate against himself, knowing it wouldn’t pass, in order to show rebellious members that he still had the support of a majority of his caucus. In 2015, Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina – who would later serve as former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff – filed a motion to vacate the speakership of Republican John Boehner, who resigned before the motion could come to a vote. 

Anger against Representative Gaetz within the Republican caucus runs deep – much of it based on the idea that ambition must be balanced by pragmatism to get anything done in a divided Congress.

“[Mr. McCarthy] is being punished because he actually did what the speaker is supposed to do on the debt ceiling: He passed a bill to everybody’s surprise and negotiated a deal,” Oklahoma Republican and Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole told reporters Tuesday. “And he’s being punished because he did the right thing on Saturday and made sure that the government didn’t shut down, and we bought more time to continue the appropriations process.” 

After Mr. Cole told the House floor that Mr. McCarthy “put his political neck on the line” and that detractors should “think long and hard before they plunge us into chaos,” the majority of Republicans gave Mr. McCarthy a standing ovation. 

Democrats declined to intervene in what they characterized as a Republican family feud, saying they had no interest in helping Mr. McCarthy save his job. Many Democrats still blame Mr. McCarthy for helping revive Mr. Trump’s political career in the wake of Jan. 6, and for failing to refute the former president’s false claims of election fraud.

“Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence and inability to govern,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, told reporters following a Democratic caucus meeting. “They are destroying our institution.”

Hard-liner goals could backfire

Ironically, the political maneuvering seemed likely to undercut one of the supposed priorities of Mr. McCarthy’s conservative antagonists – reviving the traditional budget process. With the government now set to run out of money on Nov. 17, Congress has no time to waste if it wants to pass 12 separate appropriations bills before the deadline, as conservatives have been insisting on doing. In recent years, Congress has frequently relied on a single last-minute “omnibus” bill that lawmakers often have no time to read and are forced to simply vote up or down.

“This country does not need any more drama right now,” Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told reporters Tuesday. “We just took it to the brink of a shutdown. We’ve got another 45 days to finish our work on appropriations, conference our bills with the Senate. … Anything else outside of that is nothing but a distraction. We need to move.” 

Mr. McCarthy’s critics argued, however, that leaving him in his post was more likely to result in a last-minute omnibus.

“You don’t solve any problems with continuing resolutions and omnibus bills,” said Mr. Gaetz, Mr. McCarthy’s primary antagonist, speaking on the House floor. “That creates more problems, more debt, more inflation, more pain for American families. The way to solve problems is to break the fever dream.”

When he spoke on the House floor in favor of Mr. Gaetz’s motion to vacate, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs said that, under the leadership of Mr. McCarthy, he doesn’t believe the 12 separate appropriations bills are “going to happen.” 

To which dozens of Republicans on the House floor yelled in response: “Not now.”


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