The unfolding drama on Capitol Hill, where Kevin McCarthy and the GOP establishment are trying to sway 20 dug-in Republican defectors is more like a tragedy than comedy.
The odds are growing that Republicans will take control on the anniversary of the attempted coup d’etat that culminated with the January 6 attack on the Capitol, but even with that opportunity, McCarthy appears no closer to securing the post of House speaker, a powerful job second in the line of succession to the presidency.
The stalemate certainly raises questions about Republicans’ ability to govern over the two years ahead as they stumbled over what is usually a routine vote at the beginning of a legislative session. House members must choose a speaker before swearing in individual members and taking up any legislative business.
McCarthy proposed a new round of concessions that includes one making it easier for members to remove him, which if approved by the full GOP conference on the floor in the rules package, would allow a single member from either party to trigger an up-or-down simple majority vote on whether to oust the speaker.
This is down from the threshold of five members that McCarthy previously agreed to.
McCarthy has also offered to put more members of the House Freedom Caucus on the House Rules Committee and pledged to hold votes on legislation radical conservatives have been demanding, such as term limits for members of Congress and border security.
The rebels who have opposed McCarthy are meeting to consider the latest offer and but the hardliners’ strategy seems less about demanding concessions and more about electing an alternative candidate.
It is clear that no matter how this plays out, the US House of Representatives will contribute almost nothing to the conduct of government policy in the term ahead, except for providing the potential service as a scapegoat for all of President Joe Biden’s failures.
The House adjourned Wednesday as Republicans continued to grapple with what to do next, McCarthy failing to secure enough votes for speaker after six ballots.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., another anti-McCarthy voter, took umbrage at former President Donald Trump calling recalcitrants on behalf of the beleaguered House GOP leader.
“Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us — even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off,” said Boebert on the House floor Wednesday. “I think it actually needs to be reversed; the president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw.”
“Endorsements don’t matter to me,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, one of 20 holdouts. “This is our fight here.”
The 20 hardliners don’t care that Trump backs McCarthy for speaker of the House, that party contributors are embarrassed by their antics or that they have little hope of obtaining benefits from this action.
But McCarthy’s supporters grow increasingly frustrated, they can do very little about the bloc of 20 hardliners who deemed the California Republican ideologically unreliable and have refused to back him, leaving him short of the 218 votes needed to win the job.
“You have 20 people demanding that 201 surrender to them unconditionally. Well, I will not surrender unconditionally,” said Representative Trent Kelly, a Republican who is backing McCarthy.