Kevin McCarthy Has Lost Control of the House. Can He Get It Back?

Kevin McCarthy Has Lost Control of the House. Can He Get It Back?

When the House of Representatives passed a deal to avert a default on the debt nearly two weeks ago, it was supposed to usher in a new era in the speakership of Kevin McCarthy.

It did—just not the triumphant one that McCarthy and his allies had expected.

For a week, a group of 11 conservative hardliners have held the House floor hostage, freezing all legislative business in protest of McCarthy passing a debt limit deal negotiated with President Joe Biden.

Last Tuesday, they dealt him the embarrassing failure of blocking a procedural vote on a symbolic bill to protect gas stoves. The chamber has since been dormant: McCarthy sent lawmakers home early last week and canceled votes as his team heard out the renegades’ concerns.

They were determined to reach an understanding and get the floor moving again on Monday. But after those talks apparently went nowhere, votes on Monday were canceled again. Tuesday, McCarthy swears, it will be different.

What remains unclear, however, is if these hardliners want to meaningfully change the workings of the House—right after losing the year’s biggest battle—or if they simply want to prove something else: that the right flank of the GOP can make McCarthy’s life miserable if they so choose.

Last week, McCarthy dubbed the group’s demands as unidentifiable, personally claiming the conservatives weren’t sure what they actually wanted.

On Monday, Republican hardliners scoffed at the notion that McCarthy didn’t know what they wanted. They insisted that after a weekend of negotiations, there’s no more room for McCarthy to say he doesn’t know what’s on the table.

“We just had a conversation where we talked about a lot of the reality of what we’re dealing with, and we’ve been pretty clear,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) told The Daily Beast.

Asked about McCarthy’s previous characterizations of the group’s demands being unclear, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) flatly told The Daily Beast, “No they’re not. Not now. They’re very clear.”

At least one concrete demand has come to the forefront: for House Republicans to advance annual government funding legislation that undershoots the spending caps that McCarthy and Biden struck in their deal.

Talking to reporters last Wednesday, McCarthy seemed warm to the idea. “I give my kid—here’s 50 bucks, ‘I need you to go buy some stuff at the store,’” the speaker said. “Are they going to spend all 50 bucks? No, they get change. Give me some of the change back.”

A number of other demands emerged from Republican hardliners on Monday, too. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) wanted conservatives to have more of a seat at the negotiating table.

One of McCarthy’s main GOP antagonists, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), said his faction needs a better “power sharing” agreement with the speaker.

Moving a bill by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) to overturn a Biden gun control measure—which was part of the reason for last week’s floor blowup—is part of the demands as well, said Roy. That legislation was debated in the House Rules Committee Monday, which Roy said “was a fairly clear outcome of what we did last week.”

It’s not yet clear that McCarthy is at all ready to appease those demands. But for now, he told reporters he at least expects to hold votes Tuesday. He will be combining the lingering rule vote—which is on a messaging bill protecting gas stoves for regulation—with a number of other small postponed bills. McCarthy said he anticipates his conversations with conservatives to continue.

But while the competing groups work out the details, there is another looming question: whether whatever new deal that’s struck will be in writing.

The deal McCarthy struck in January with 20 members of the hard right to win the speaker’s gavel, as far as the public was aware, included an array of agreements on procedure and power sharing that wasn’t put in any written form. As conservatives now insist McCarthy reneged on the deal, some say they might need something more from this go around.

Norman said, “It’s got to be a lot firmer than what it was.”

McCarthy slyly threw cold water on the idea, however, in an apparent attempt to not lock himself into anything.

“I don’t know that there’s anything in writing here. The only thing we agreed to is that we’ll sit down and talk more in the process,” he said.

Even as McCarthy appears to have managed to wrangle his party this go-around, a cloud continues to hang over his speakership. With a margin of just four votes, any move he makes to appease the far right could erode his support in the more moderate wing of his conference. According to Politico, freshman swing district Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) stood up in a Monday member meeting to vent about a small right-wing band holding the vast majority of the party hostage.

When a reporter asked about the likelihood of conservative mutiny returning to the conference, McCarthy interjected with an “Oh yeah,” before going on to say he’s going to continue running the House the “same way I’ve done it every day since I’ve been speaker.”

Which, he insists, has been working,—despite requiring an apparently biblical reserve of calm.

“You know, each day is another challenge,” McCarthy said. “I just wake up every morning, pray for the patience of Job, and find a solution that will work for you. I think today went very well.”

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