Today’s Tiger Beat on the Potomac (thanks Charlie!) morning email thingie is essentially the Racing Forum for how long K-Mac will remain as Speaker:
KEVIN McCARTHY finally got the gavel — but in the process, he gave away the House.
The concessions the California Republican awarded his critics to secure his position all but ensure that he will operate as speaker in name only. For the first time in decades, rank-and-file members will have as much power as their leader (more on that below). That reality could blow back on moderates and could ultimately undercut Republicans politically: Despite their desire to use their newfound majority to focus attention on President JOE BIDEN, GOP infighting is going to dominate the Congress.
The chaotic past week is just a prelude to what is shaping up to be equally unstable next two years in the House. Here are four dynamics we’ll be watching:
1. The Freedom Caucus’ new veto power. McCarthy’s decision to give Freedom Caucus members three of the nine seats on the House Rules Committee easily represented the single most significant surrender of leadership power that we’ve seen in decades — one that will have major repercussions for the lower chamber.
Since the 1960s, the panel — which oversees the floor process and decides which amendments are considered —has been viewed as the “speaker’s committee,” with each member handpicked by the leader and genuflecting to his or her will.
Now, conservatives eager to flex will dominate that panel and operate independently of leadership, effectively wielding veto power over legislation. Given the committee’s partisan breakdown — nine seats for the GOP, four for Democrats — Republicans can afford to lose only two votes. That means that the three Freedom Caucus members on the panel could band together with Democrats to tank a bill even before it hits the floor. They’ll also be able to demand changes to legislation, undercutting the careful work by other committee chairs who may not agree with their views.
McCarthy’s camp has sought to downplay this change by arguing that (1)conservatives could kill any bill anyway because of their slim four-seat House majority and (2) it’s better for them to hash out their disagreements with conservatives in committee before bills head to the floor.
But “that misses the ballgame,” as one astute former House GOP leadership source told us: It “doesn’t take into account that the power of the floor isn’t just about what reaches it, but also what doesn’t — and what processes are permitted via amendment.”
2. Tough votes for moderates and swing-seat representatives. There’s a reason why moderate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been largely shielded from having to take votes on lightning-rod issues when their party is in the majority. That reason is leadership’s control of the Rules Committee.
For many years, leadership has used the Rules panel to ensure that third-rail proposals never see the light of day. Democrats were spared from voting on Medicare for All or abolishing ICE. Republicans avoided votes on major cuts to Social Security or abolishing the IRS. Why? To protect members of the majority party from having to take votes that could become major political liabilities, make them the targets of high-profile partisan pundits or spur primary challenges.
That buffer is gone.
“The ‘normal’ GOP member will now have to take a lot of hard-right votes that they will feel pressured from their crazy base to support,” the former House GOP leadership source told us. “Members can no longer be protected from politically toxic conservative wish lists.”
3. The coming GOP battle over defense spending. As part of his deal with the right, McCarthy promised to hold a vote on a budget that will balance the deficit in a decade and cap discretionary spending levels at fiscal 2022. That could mean a 10% cut to the Pentagon.
Already, the GOP’s defense hawks are up in arms at the prospect. “Most of us won’t vote for cuts to defense,” Rep. DON BACON (R-Neb.) told my colleagues this week. Added Rep. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.), who also sits on the Armed Services panel: “There’s a ton of defense hawks that are necessary to get to the math of 218.”
What’s more, it also goes against what GOP voters want. A December poll by the Vandenberg Coalition, a conservative foreign policy-focused nonprofit that advocates for defense spending, found that 87% of Republican voters support increased military spending. Read the exclusive poll results
Notably, Republican leaders — including McCarthy himself — have championed increases to defense spending in recent years, and have blasted Biden on the topic. Watch for administration officials to use this issue against McCarthy in the coming months; they already have a list of his comments ripping them a new one for doing exactly what his members are proposing now.
4. McCarthy’s ticking clock. As far as we know, the “motion to vacate” has never successfully ousted a speaker, even though it’s been in existence for 200 years.
That may change this year.
In December, we reported that even McCarthy’s allies privately agreed that his time as speaker would be limited. Since then, he’s effectively ensured that will be the case by restoring the motion to vacate, enabling a single unhappy member to trigger a vote to oust him. McCarthy can only lose four votes; conservatives can show him the door any time they want.
I’m going to interject here: the motion to vacate is a privileged motion. If for any reason you’ve ever been involved with organizations that use Roberts Rules of Order, you already know that privileged motions take precedence over whatever the business is at hand. If Congress (for instance) is debating a bill, it gets put aside and the debate switches to the privileged motion, and debate ensues on the privileged motion; the privileged motion cannot be tabled or referred to committee. The motion forces a vote that a simple majority resolves. A Yea would be a vote to pass the motion and a Nay would, uh, not be.
So whether it is a single member, or five (or 50) to move to vacate the process would, in effect be the same process as electing a speaker but in reverse. The 20 or so people who gummed up the works would have to get about 200 of their esteemed colleagues to vote with them. I do not understand Tiger Beat’s logic here saying that four votes and K-Mac is done, unless they are saying that the Democrats automatically would vote to remove K-Mac.(For Dawg only knows who to grab the gavel?)
Maybe there’s a rule change that only Majority can vote? But even then, 50% +1 of the conference would have to vote to remove him. So I don’t get this at all.
If I got this wrong, someone please correct me.
We saw this week how difficult it was for McCarthy to muster enough votes to get the gavel — and that was after years of trying to win over his detractors. Now, he’ll have to do the even more difficult job of governing: passing spending bills, dealing with the debt ceiling — and yes, unfortunately for him, negotiating with Democrats, which will jeopardize his standing on the right.
How long will he last? Rep. DAVE JOYCE cracked a funny line with elements of truth in it during a 2 a.m. CNN interview just after McCarthy won the gavel. Asked how long it would take for conservatives to use the “motion to vacate,” the Ohio Republican replied: “Tomorrow?”
We think McCarthy will probably have a few months. But the fiscal deadlines looming this year — spending bills and a debt ceiling increase, with shutdowns and even a national default possible — mean that his hourglass is already starting to run out of time.
This morning, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” conservativeRep. CHIP ROY (R-Texas) was asked whether he’d trigger the motion to vacate if Republicans go for a clean debt ceiling increase. “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.”
In other words ol’ Chip is saying that the hostage situation continues. Good to know.
Anyway for fun, if anyone wants to start an office pool on how long K-Mac will last, have at it in the comments. Maybe we will make a new tab and track it?