Monday, January 16, 2023


We know that Kevin McCarthy agreed to many items on far-right wish lists in order to become Speaker of the House. But it's conventional wisdom that every McCarthy concession was made reluctantly and at the last minute because McCarthy is a weakling who was desperate for the job. Here's the standard narrative, from Benamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker:
... Mostly, he traded leverage away for support. He agreed to lower the threshold for replacing a Speaker, and to keep a McCarthy-aligned super PAC from picking sides in Republican primaries. Substantively, he agreed to establish a new select subcommittee on the “weaponization” of the federal government which [Jim] Jordan is expected to lead, and is likely to begin with investigations into the Obama-era classified documents that recently turned up in an office that President Biden had used and at his home. (The new Speaker has also agreed to consider formally expunging Trump’s impeachment.) More ominously, McCarthy agreed not to raise the debt ceiling without extracting offsetting spending cuts.... And he gave opponents the committee seats they wanted. Fox News asked Byron Donalds, a second-term Black congressman from Florida, whom the insurgents had repeatedly nominated for Speaker, “What did you get?” The answer was a spot on the Party’s steering committee. Gaetz said that the opposition to McCarthy’s election stopped because “we ran out of stuff to ask for.”
Some of this -- the plum committee assignments for opponents, the low threshold for a vote to replace him -- was clearly agreed to at the last minute. But that committee on the "weaponization" of government? Here's McCarthy months before the midterms:

And on the debt ceiling, here's McCarthy in October:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that if Republicans win control of the House the GOP will use raising the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts — which could include cuts to Medicare and Social Security — and limit additional funding to Ukraine.

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” the California Republican told Punchbowl News in a recent interview. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior.”

“We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right,” he added. “And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

Pressed on whether changes to the entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security were part of the debt ceiling discussions, McCarthy said he would not “predetermine” anything.
This is what McCarthy was saying when he and most political observers assumed he'd emerge from the midterms with a comfort double-digit Republican majority, and therefore wouldn't need to make desperate deals in order to win the speakership. Which means one of three things: (a) he was compromising his principles months ago, (b) he doesn't have any principles, or (c) these are his principles.

Which is why I have doubts about this conventional wisdom, too:
If this is, in fact, how the new Speaker has to govern, by cutting individual deals in order to preserve his majority, then his tenure is likely to move from crisis to crisis and may well be short.
It seems to me the opposite could be true -- if he's simply not interested in taking a principled stand against anything his extremist enemies want, either because he shares their extremism or he doesn't give a fuck, then he could stay on the job as long as Republicans hold the majority, or he'll have to be defenestrated by less extreme members of his caucus, who probably won't want to do it because they know the end result could be Speaker Andy Biggs or Speaker Matt Gaetz. So I think it's quite possible he'll still be Speaker at the end of this Congress. Never standing up to anyone who challenges him ought to lengthen his tenure as Speaker, not shorten it.

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