Eric Garcia, The Independent
If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has one defining trait, it’s his eagerness to please. He has used this acumen to compensate for his lack of policy wonkery and other skills associated with being an effective congressional leader.
When he led Republicans in California’s state legislature, he earned a reputation as someone who would keep his word with Democrats when the legislature needed to get a bill across the finish line.
When he came to Washington, one aide said he was “like your favorite fraternity brother” for his affability. And despite his dislike of Democrats’ investigation into the riot on January 6, last year, I overheard him talking with select committee member and then-Democratic congresswoman Stephanie Murphy about what type of dog to get for her family. He has cultivated relationships with California’s elite, befriending Elon Musk long before the Tesla executive shifted rightward, and serving as inspiration for Kevin Spacey’s character of Frank Underwood in House of Cards.
He’s taken that approach with both Donald Trump and the hard-right faction in the House GOP conference. Whereas his predecessor House Speaker Paul Ryan feigned ignorance about the then-president’s worst impulses and frequently pretended not to see his tweets, McCarthy learned that Trump preferred cherry and strawberry Starbursts and had an aide make sure the president had a jar full of them. In the same vein, while House Speaker John Boehner frequently feuded with the House Freedom Caucus, calling their ringleader Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) a “legislative terrorist,” McCarthy has made Jordan a trusted ally and has elevated him to be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. That has led to Jordan being one of McCarthy’s biggest conservative defenders. He all but gave Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) a pass for her most noxious comments and she routinely goes to the mat for him, even when it sacrifices her credibility with the right.
That eagerness to please is now looking to be his undoing as he will face the biggest test of his short speakership when the House votes on the bipartisan agreement he struck with the White House to raise the debt limit.
The debt limit would always be his biggest hurdle, given House Republicans’ general allergy to passing legislation to allow for the United States to continue paying its debt obligations for spending it already incurred. But McCarthy couldn’t be the speaker who allowed the nation to go into default and trigger a catastrophic economic crash. This means the speaker would be forced to choose whom he would please, and naturally he would have to pick avoiding default and forcing the White House to the negotiating table.
As a result, he brokered tons of backroom deals to soothe conservative opposition, including with many of the people who tried to overturn the 2020 election — such as Freedom Caucus Rep Scott Perry (R-PA) – or those who downplayed the severity of the January 6 riot, such as Rep Andrew Clyde (R-GA). McCarthy allowed for a single member to file a motion to vacate the chair, so any single member could have a vote to try to depose him if they felt he was insufficiently conservative, all but allowing conservatives to hold a loaded revolver to his head with their finger on the trigger throughout his tenure. That is why he likely passed a debt limit bill through the House that he knew the White House would outright reject. But in the back of his head, he had to know many conservatives would characterise any deal he cut with the Biden administration as a capitulation, no matter how conservative it was. But what he likely didn’t expect was how many others, including allies like Reps Wesley Hunt (R-TX), Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Cory Mills (R-FL), all of whom backed his bid for speaker, would reject the agreement. Ms Mace all but said that President Joe Biden swindled McCarthy. Meanwhile, Rep Chip Roy (R-TX), who served as chief of staff for Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) when Cruz instigated a government shutdown with House conservatives that made Boehner’s life miserable, has pledged that there would be “a reckoning” over the legislation.
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