Does The GOP Face a Long Slog To a Pyrrhic Victory?
If you get the Speakership, what can you even do with it now?
Although Kevin McCarthy has lost a few votes in the successive rounds of balloting, he:
Retains the vast majority of Republican votes;
Is showing he is determined to stay in the race;
Has offered the right-wing group as many concessions as he can, if the speaker’s office is to retain any power to move legislation; and
Still doesn’t face any serious alternative among Republicans.
It is impossible to know with any confidence what happens next. McCarthy is trying his best to convince the entire Republican caucus that he won’t drop out. If he manages to convince them, he is likely to win. If he doesn’t, then the two sides will bargain to find an acceptable alternative.
The most likely alternative is the second-ranking Republican in the House, Steve Scalise. He is part of the current leadership team, so he is acceptable to the center-right majority of the caucus, but he is more conservative than McCarthy and might be more acceptable to the right.
Still, McCarthy will step aside only if he knows he can’t win and only if the compromise vote on Scalise was settled in advance. That’s possible, but unlikely. Even more unlikely are the candidates put up by the right-wing group, first Jim Jordan (who doesn’t want the job) and then Byron Donalds (who seems reluctant). They couldn’t win support from moderates in the caucus, who would also be bitter about the treatment of McCarthy.
Hard as it is to know who will eventually win, we do know this: victory doesn’t look like much of a prize. The old joke is that first prize is a week’s vacation in Cleveland; second prize is two weeks. The speakership is beginning to look like two weeks in Cleveland in mid-winter. Or perhaps Buffalo. The persistence of the right-wing opposition shows there will be lots of potential “veto” votes available for every bill the speaker pushes.
Victories in battles like this are named after an ancient monarch who defeated the Roman army at a devastating cost to his own. “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans,” he said, “we shall be utterly ruined.” His name was King Pyrrhus, and he gave his name to Pyrrhic victories.
The House still doesn’t have a speaker. Kevin McCarthy still has 20 GOP colleagues voting for someone else for the chamber’s top job. And the California Republican may still have to sit through a seventh speaker vote today that he’s sure to lose.
Yet for the first time this week, there are some positive signs for McCarthy. They’re small and you have to squint your eyes a bit to see them. But they’re there.
→ McCarthy won a raucous floor vote Wednesday night to adjourn the House until noon today. There were only four Republican defections. Two Democratic absences — Reps. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.) and Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.) — helped GOP leadership seal the win. But as McCarthy frequently says, it’s better to be lucky than good.
It was a small victory. Yet it was also a proxy of sorts that allowed talks between McCarthy and his conservative opponents to continue throughout the night.
→ After days of stalemate that led to the current crisis, negotiations between leadership allies and McCarthy opponents have begun moving in a positive direction. There’s no deal yet, and it may take several more days to finish these talks – if they’re even successful.
Republican insiders say negotiations to choose a speaker will likely drag into next week. Weekend votes are being threatened, but we’re told it’s unlikely.
Here’s some news: The demands from Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and the House Freedom Caucus are very aggressive, although McCarthy and his leadership allies are considering – or have even approved – nearly all of them. That’s a sign of the enormous leverage conservative hardliners have over McCarthy right now.
These demands include: any single member can offer a “motion to vacate the chair,” essentially a no-confidence vote on the speaker, although conservatives promise not to abuse it; and placement of as many as four HFC members (or HFC “adjacent”) on the powerful Rules Committee, which is how the speaker controls the floor; guaranteed floor votes on border security and term limits bills.
In addition, conservatives want to be given multiple subcommittee gavels, including an HFC member as a “cardinal” on the Appropriations Committee (maybe even the key Labor-HHS panel); removing the “Weaponization of the Federal Government” subcommittee from under the Judiciary Committee and allowing an HFC member to chair the panel.
McCarthy has traded offers with conservatives on these issues.
“It’s hard to say a timeline,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who is involved in the negotiations, told us.
“What I think is going to happen is any new agreements that are reached are going to have to be put into a rules package. Then you have to get the [sign-off] by McCarthy, like the last one was. Then you have to wait 72 hours. So we’re probably looking more likely into the weekend or next week.”
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