In these times of division and strife, I think we can all come together and agree that what's happening to Kevin McCarthy is funny. Mike Pence will always be the Sunk Cost King around these parts, but the aspiring speaker of the House is at least an archduke of the realm. On this, the second anniversary of January 6, it's helpful to remember that McCarthy initially responded to that attempt to overthrow the government with forthright condemnation. It took just weeks for him to come to Donald Trump's heel, however, and a similar dynamic is now playing out with the extreme right in the House Republican caucus—a group which consists, by and large, of some of the prime supporters of Trump's attempted autogolpe. McCarthy has taken out a mortgage on his dignity in his lust for power. But he's given away the power. Call it 'lust for title.'
"These archconservatives have won promises to secure posts on the powerful Rules Committee; to gain influential posts on other committees; to have wide-open debate with unlimited amendments on government funding bills; and to give just a single member the power to compel a vote to expel McCarthy as speaker if they decide he hasn’t lived up to his word," the Washington Post reports. Handing the Rules Committee over to these people should stick out here, as it essentially dictates how the whole chamber will run. (McCarthy's "aligned" Super PAC has also agreed not to get involved in open Republican primaries, and remember when the Supreme Court told us these PACs were "independent"? Big ups to Anthony Kennedy once again.) Politico cited a House Republican aide for a harsher assessment: "He’s essentially given away all the power of the speakership. He’s making it to where these Freedom Caucus guys can stop anything they want...It’s a vanity project. This majority is going to be miserable. It’s just absurd what he’s given away to these guys just to be speaker when I’m sure there’s somebody in this conference that the Freedom Caucus would have accepted as speaker and not demanded all of these crazy changes."
In his quest to get ahold of the plaque and avoid having to move his stuff out of the speaker's office—which would constitute the evaporation of whatever few ounces of dignity remain—McCarthy will divest himself of many of the actual powers of the position. In the process, he has set himself up to be batted around like a piñata for two years, with Freedom Caucus loons exercising a de facto veto over any legislative priority McCarthy might have. Maybe it's generous to assume he has any, or that he wouldn't be perfectly happy making their priorities his—so long as everyone has to call him "Mr. Speaker" and someday, probably in the very near future, he leaves with an official portrait that the Capitol's overseers have no choice but to hang in the hallway.
It's fun to watch McCarthy lose 11 straight votes to Hakeem Jeffries because the loons are essentially right about him: He doesn't believe in anything, and he'll do anything to be speaker. But it won't be funny when those shameless fools and self-promoters are making the rules over the next two years. An underrated part of this whole dynamic is that Kevin McCarthy is one of the Beltway's dimmest bulbs, which may be why he didn't see the writing on the wall like Paul Ryan did and cash out of this business in favor of sitting on corporate boards and peddling whatever influence he had. He doesn't seem to understand basic negotiation tactics, which makes him a suboptimal choice for a congressional leadership position. But he just had to be speaker, and now he may get it, along with a whole cast of Shadow Speakers who will meddle in every attempt to actually run the government. Forget funding for Ukraine—this is funding our own shop. We're looking at government shutdowns and debt-ceiling hostage taking, the latter of which is, of course, putting a gun to the head of the global economy. These people have no interest in governing the country. They want to get on Fox News. I would not advise booking a trip to a national park later this year.
If the House is a power plant with hundreds of workers, McCarthy was always going to face some strike actions from his flock. He has a narrow majority, even if it's similar to the one Nancy Pelosi very deftly herded, and a chunk of his majority is nutty. But rather than find a way to keep them in the hallways, still making a racket and occasionally disrupting the plant's operations, he's given them key cards to the control room. All so he can say he's the Plant Manager until one of them—one!—kicks off a motion to defenestrate him.
Which they will do at any time for any reason. These are people who for days now have been giving speeches on the House floor about how the last Congress constituted some cataclysmic event from which the American people chose them to save us. (I can't imagine this extended exhibition of their most Out There members has been good politics.) Never mind that it was a fairly standard legislative session in which, in among a number of bills tackling real problems this country faces, the Democrats spent a bit too much on a pandemic relief bill and made inflation somewhat worse. (That bill also cut child poverty in half.) Then, in a midterm where the opposition party controlled the White House amid challenging economic conditions, Republicans underperformed in historic fashion. They hold the House only thanks to a few thousand votes spread across a handful of seats, mostly in New York, where anti-gerrymandering policies kept some seats competitive. Somehow, in their manic minds, this constitutes a mandate to commit arson until government spending is slashed in line with their priorities. At least Chip Roy admitted that defense spending is spending.
But maybe, on this second anniversary of January 6, its cheerleaders will come together with their slightly more normal colleagues to make Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House. "We’re going to make progress," he said on his way into the Capitol, "we’re going to shock you." And then, by 10:30 a.m.: "I'm not telling you we have an agreement," he reportedly told his flock, "I am telling you we are in a good position." We are forced to acknowledge that, despite what's coming down the pike these next two years, this is all very funny. So is the idea these are the folks who are going to fix inflation. The holdouts aren't interested in governing, but through their antics, they've exposed that McCarthy doesn't care about it, either. He already backtracked on his opposition to a coup attempt in order to be speaker. Who cares about the details from here? There's no going back now.
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