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McCarthy’s divided House

The new House speaker looks to lead amid conflicting expectations


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Getty Images/Photo by Shuran Huang/Bloomberg

McCarthy’s divided House

After 14 unsuccessful rounds of voting and numerous behind-the-scenes negotiations, Kevin McCarthy secured the needed 218 votes to assume the U.S. House of Representatives’ speakership early Saturday—but not before making a set of concessions to hold out opposition within his own party. Those agreements could hurt McCarthy in the long run and set the House GOP on a collision course with the legislative priorities of the White House and the Senate.

“Some of the things he agreed to could be problematic down the road,” said Jim Curry, director of Graduate Studies at the University of Utah. “He’s really put himself in a bind.”

Some of those agreements were changes to the way the House of Representatives conducts business procedurally. Others were agenda-related promises.

Procedurally, McCarthy agreed to increase the participation of individual House members and weaken the position of speaker. The changes include a mandatory 72-hour review process for pieces of legislation, an end to proxy voting, and a requirement that the sponsor of a bill write a single purpose for the act. The changes also include the “Holman Rule,” which allows for cuts to specific federal programs or reductions to the salaries of federal employees as part of spending bills.

“McCarthy agreed to some of these, which were low-hanging fruit.” Curry explained.

But other changes carried more weight. McCarthy notably agreed to drop the threshold of votes needed to start a “resolution declaring the office of speaker vacant”—a motion that would prompt a vote to remove the speaker. Any one member can now begin that process.

Curry said the most significant concession was McCarthy’s agreement to put three members of the Freedom Caucus on the powerful House Rules Committee. The committee, consisting of nine majority members and four minority members, is usually controlled by people closest to the speaker. The group makes decisions about what pieces of legislation reach the floor, when they’re voted on, the order of amendments, and more. If those three new members don’t see eye-to-eye with McCarthy’s legislative direction, they could vote with the minority to grind the committee to a halt.

Other components of McCarthy’s agreements go beyond procedure into the chamber’s agenda. These more general promises could challenge McCarthy not only in the House, but also externally.

“It’s all still very secretive,” Curry said. “We don’t know the full extent to what he agreed to.”

If meeting the demands of the House Freedom Caucus makes it more difficult for McCarthy to push through legislation, he could face even greater opposition from Democrats and the rest of his own party.

McCarthy reportedly promised to support a 10-year budget plan that would keep spending capped at levels from 2022. For many looking at numbers, that means cutting security and national defense. McCarthy also nominally agreed to fight an increase to the debt ceiling this coming year. Democrats in both chambers have already voiced their opposition to such a promise, especially as the nation could face an economic crisis if an agreement can’t be reached in a timely manner.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who was part of the group opposing McCarthy’s speakership, told CNN that when it comes to spending and debt, the ball is in McCarthy’s court.

“I’m not going to play the what-if games on how we’re going to use the tools of the House to make sure that we enforce the terms of the agreement,” Roy said. “But we will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreement.”

Curry noted that these agreements don’t just bring McCarthy into conflict with people within his own chamber, but could also put himself at odds with GOP leadership in the Senate. Following through with his party’s commitments could mean having to hold the line against pressures from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“[McCarthy] can’t promise he’s going to win those fights,” Curry said. “Those things have to go through the House and then through the Senate, and they require bipartisan support. He’s not going to get the Senate to agree to [his deals] and he’s not going to get the White House to sign it.”


Leo Briceno

Leo is a graduate of Patrick Henry College. He reports on politics from Washington, D.C.

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