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October 4, 2023

McCarthy Booted From House Speakership

In a historic vote, eight Republicans voted with the entire Democrat caucus to oust the speaker of the House.

It’s probably not a good sign when a nation keeps stacking one “historic” or “unprecedented” first atop another: first president to be indicted, first president to have a child indicted, first president to be elected despite clear evidence that he’s in the throes of dementia, and the list goes on.

And so it was yesterday, when Kevin McCarthy became the first House speaker to be removed from the role in a never-before-seen vote that leaves the lower chamber in a temporary state of chaos. Ninety-six percent of McCarthy’s caucus supported him. Four percent did not. And that was that.

The mutiny was led by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, and it came, as The Hill reports, “days after McCarthy averted a government shutdown by putting a stopgap measure on the floor that garnered Democratic support — a move that infuriated hardline Republicans.”

Essentially, fiscally responsible Republicans hate the repeated omnibus spending packages that they’re continually forced to vote on, rather than the smaller, more tightly focused individual spending packages that the House has traditionally taken up. McCarthy’s failure to follow through on his promise to bring the 12 individual appropriations bills to the House floor — a promise which he’d made to secure enough Republican votes for the speakership — was a massive and avoidable strategic failure on his part.

McCarthy spoke last night shortly after his ouster, recounting the improbably American path that led him to the speakership, saying that he had no regrets, but ultimately and correctly noting that a tiny sliver of his GOP caucus had worked with all Democrats to remove him from the speakership.

But as Gaetz’s speaker-ousting colleague Ken Buck told Fox News this morning: “It’s rich that Kevin McCarthy would suggest that conservatives like me, and Andy Biggs, and Matt Gaetz are working with the Democrats on something. When he needed to pass a debt-ceiling bill, he went to President Biden, agreed to a number that was $200 billion more than he promised the Republican conference, and relied on Democrats to pass that debt-ceiling bill. When we were nearing a shutdown, he lost 90 votes from the Republican conference because the bill was so terrible, and he relied on Democrats to pass that bill. This is a situation where there were eight Republicans who were fed up, [but] there were dozens more who would have voted for this but didn’t need to. They didn’t need to stick their necks out. They didn’t need to make everybody in this town mad.”

Was this a band of hard-right fiscal hawks? Mostly, but not entirely. Gaetz, whose lifetime American Conservative Union rating is a solid 92, and who last night told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, “I am the only Republican in the entire United States Congress who takes no lobbyist money and no PAC money,” was joined by every House Democrat and seven other Republicans: Montana’s Matt Rosendale, lifetime American Conservative Union (ACU) rating 100; Virginia’s Bob Good, ACU rating 100; Arizona’s Andy Biggs, ACU rating 97; Colorado’s Ken Buck, ACU rating 97; Tennessee’s Tim Burchett, ACU rating 91; Arizona’s Eli Crane, newly elected to Congress and thus without a lifetime ACU rating; and South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, an outlier with a rather suspect lifetime ACU rating of 74, which is a full 10 points below that of Kevin McCarthy himself. We wonder: Did Mace think McCarthy is too fiscally frugal? Because it doesn’t appear that she’s met too many spending bills she didn’t like.

The Democrats are grateful to Matt Gaetz because he’s taken the focus off of a lawless Democrat who pulled a fire alarm, off the Democrat-induced catastrophe on our southern border, off the scourge of rampant crime, off the corruption of the Biden Crime Family, off the cascading failures of Joe Biden. But only temporarily.

Newt Gingrich was predictably and understandably indignant on Fox News last night, lashing out at Gaetz and his colleagues for carrying out their coup against a speaker whom Gingrich has steadfastly supported. But Gingrich wasn’t thinking clearly when he said that each of the eight should be subjected to a primary challenge in their congressional districts next November. Gaetz, for example, represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District on the westernmost part of the Panhandle, which includes Naval Air Station Pensacola, and is one of the most solidly conservative districts in Florida. Last year, in the wake of a Democrat-led smear campaign, he easily beat back primary challenges from two solidly Republican prior-military candidates. If Newt thinks the voters of Florida’s 1st are going to oust Gaetz because he ousted McCarthy, he’s sorely mistaken. We’d venture the same guess about the other seven, with the possible exception of Mace, whose voting record seems somewhat out of step with what we’d expect in South Carolina. As Kayleigh McEnany pointed out on Fox News, Mace was apparently upset that McCarthy hadn’t kept a promise to bring pro-choice and anti-gun legislation to the floor. If true, her constituents might wonder whether a primary challenge is in order.

In his remarks to reporters at a presser last night, McCarthy provided this fascinating insight:

Nancy Pelosi came to me. She was speaker at the time, on the way out. And I told her I was having issues getting enough votes. And she said, “What’s the problem?” And I said, “They want this one person can rule you out.” And she said, “Just give it to them. I’ll always back you up. I’ve made the same offer to [previous Republican speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan] because I believe in the institution.” I think today was a political decision by the Democrats.“

It certainly was political. And it was yet another miscalculation by McCarthy if he’d assumed that a treacherous leftist snake like Hakeem Jeffries believes "in the institution” like Nancy Pelosi believes in it. Jeffries had it within his power to maintain the institution; to thwart the power play of Gaetz and his eight fellow Freedom Caucus rebels. All Jeffries had to do was assign a handful of House Democrats from uncontested districts to vote with the House GOP and thereby deny Gaetz and his fellow insurgents their strange-bedfellow majority. And yet, just days after voting with McCarthy on a spending bill that was favorable to Democrats, Jeffries chose to abandon him, to watch the Republicans burn the House down.

Which brings us to another point: Gaetz and his colleagues didn’t actually burn anything down, despite all the pearl-clutching and gnashing of teeth from certain quarters of the Right. A vote on the next speaker will be held next week, and if the government grinds to something of a halt for the next week, then so be it.

As for questions about the “paralysis” and “chaos” that he’d caused, Gaetz noted that our nation is $33 trillion in debt and then made this point: “You know what I think paralyzes us? Continuing to govern by continuing resolution and omnibus. You know what I think throws this institution into chaos? Marching toward the dollar not being the reserve currency anymore. You talk about chaos as if it’s me forcing a few votes and filing a few motions. Real chaos is when the American people have to go through the austerity that is coming if we continue to have $2 trillion annual deficits.”

Who will the next speaker be? There are at least four candidates who’ve already emerged within the Republican caucus: Majority Leader Steve Scalise; House Majority Whip Tom Emmer; Republican Study Committee leader Kevin Hern; and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, who announced his bid this morning. Scalise, from Louisiana, has a lifetime ACU rating of 91 and is considered a natural frontrunner. His health is a consideration, though, as he was diagnosed earlier this year with multiple myeloma and has thus been undergoing aggressive chemotherapy. Emmer, whose lifetime ACU rating is a middling 80, comes from a contested district in Minnesota and would thus bring that reach-across-the-aisle perspective to the job. Hern, from Oklahoma, has a lifetime ACU rating of 98, leads the largest caucus within the Republican House, and is seen as having a good working relationship with both moderates and conservatives. And Jordan, the Freedom Caucus leader whose lifetime ACU rating is 100, would bring unmatched energy, toughness, and tenacity to the role.

Two other appealing candidates would be conservatives Chip Roy of Texas and Byron Donalds of Florida. Donalds is probably too inexperienced for the speakership, but just the thought of those “Nazi” Republicans being led by the first black speaker of the House is rich indeed.

And there’s another candidate, albeit a long shot, who’s emerged from outside the GOP House caucus: Donald Trump. There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution, after all, that says the speaker of the House must be a House member. Outside a New York courtroom this morning on day three of his fraud trial, Trump was asked about the speakership mess and whether he’d consider being speaker. He said: “A lot of people have been calling me about [being] speaker. All I can say is we’ll do whatever’s best for the country and for the Republican Party. I just want to say: We have some great, great people. … We’re leading by, like, 50 points for president. My focus is totally on that. If I can help them during the process, I would do it, but we have some great people in the Republican Party that can do a great job as speaker.”

Yesterday, during the somber House discussions prior to the vote on McCarthy’s speakership, Gaetz managed to get a laugh out of many of his colleagues — and perhaps a laugh is just what we need right now. Responding to California Congressman Tom McClintock, who’d earlier said that this version of the House had exceeded all expectations, Gaetz quipped, “If this House of Representatives has exceeded all expectations, then we definitely need higher expectations.”

POSTSCRIPT: Democrat elders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are reaping what they’ve sown. As The Hill reports, Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally, booted both Pelosi and Hoyer from their convenient Capitol “hideaway” offices this morning, amid the fallout from the vote to oust McCarthy. Bipartisan decorum had allowed Pelosi and Hoyer to retain these offices when the GOP took power in January, but it appears that McHenry is blaming them, at least in part, for not having stepped in to prevent the ouster of his friend.


Updated with a postscript, additional info about Nancy Mace’s vote, and a mention of two other interesting speakership candidates.

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