Newsline

Newsline , Society

Speakership Battle Strengthened McCarthy, Not Weakened Him

Posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2023
|
by Daniel Berman
|
58 Comments
|
Print

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

After a few days of drama which brought C-SPAN historic levels of viewership, Kevin McCarthy is now speaker of the House. The struggle raised tensions within the Republican Party, while allowing Democrats and many of their media allies to gloat about the “damage” the fight was inflicting on the GOP. With the battle over the speakership resolved, at least for now, it is worth examining those claims, and whether the Republican brand emerged damaged, as Democrats allege, or strengthened through an exercise in sometimes-messy democratic politics, as conservatives such as Newt Gingrich have argued.

The conclusion may be a surprising one. There are likely individual Republican members who have been hurt by the fight, but they are few and far between, even among the members of the House Freedom Caucus. On the other hand, there is a reason Democrats are consoling themselves by focusing on the “damage” this fight will inflict for 2024. The agreement that resolved the impasse leaves Democrats in a far worse position from which to influence proceedings in the House and will maximize the difficulties for the Biden administration and the Democrat-led Senate.

The “Crisis” Began with the 2022 Midterms

There have been efforts to assign blame to assorted parties for what happened last week. The majority of the caucus, including figures such as Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw, have placed the blame with the Freedom Caucus, in one case terming them “legislative terrorists.” The House Freedom Caucus blamed past betrayals by leadership. In turn, other Republicans suggested a number of HFC members were after patronage they could not win democratically within the caucus, an image lent credibility by rumors that several members were bargaining for committee spots. The DC commentariat of both parties blamed Kevin McCarthy himself for failing to establish any sort of ideological base other than achieving the speakership, and thereby ensuring no one trusted him.

The reality is that while all of these factors could have played a role, it was the results of the 2022 midterms that made this fight possible. Interestingly, though, it was not the Republican underperformance in the House. Nancy Pelosi had an equally narrow majority after 2020, a year in which Democrats had been widely expected to make gains, and rather than bring her down, Democrats reelected her as speaker with the same 216 votes Kevin McCarthy eventually received.

There was a reason for that. Democrats could not afford to spend time on recriminations over the underperformance in the House and Senate. Biden was president and Democrats had done well enough to win control of the Senate.

Democrats in the House and Senate faced a choice: they could either spend time on infighting or they could try to pass legislation. The argument that criticism of leadership was undermining Biden’s presidency was a powerful weapon in the hands of Pelosi and Schumer.

It is not Kevin McCarthy’s fault that he lacks that weapon. His House majority would be more than sufficient to pass legislation and challenge the Biden administration, if Republicans had taken the Senate as they were widely expected to do. Instead, Republicans lost seats, and more than the new 51-49 Democratic majority, the defeat seems to have demoralized Mitch McConnell, removing whatever fight he had left in him. While McCarthy was facing off against his rivals, McConnell was introducing Joe Biden at an event in Kentucky.

The 2022 results therefore cost the GOP more than a Senate seat. They appear to have cost the GOP a Senate Republican caucus interesting in fighting the Biden White House over the next two years.

With the Senate GOP effectively absenting itself from politics under McConnell, the stakes for the House Republican caucus shifted decisively. Rather than negotiating as a block, it was suddenly clear how things would go. In defiance of the Constitution’s requirement that spending bills originate in the House, Schumer and McConnell would reach agreement on key legislation ranging from the debt limit to Ukraine aid, pass it by bipartisan majorities of 69-29 or so, and then confront the House with it. At that point McCarthy would find himself forced to accept those compromises with minor face-saving concessions, or castigated as an obstructionist against a “bipartisan consensus”.

The House Freedom Caucus may have had issues of trust with Kevin McCarthy, but the real reason the speakership race came with such high stakes was the surrender of Mitch McConnell. If House conservatives could have trusted Senate Republicans to support the House in any confrontations, then they might have been less concerned with drawing a line of their own. Instead, having watched a massive package of Ukraine aid, spending, and other legislation pass on Biden and Schumer’s terms during the lame-duck period, they concluded they needed to ensure McCarthy stood up against the Senate, and that if he did, he could use House conservatives’ “obstruction” as leverage. And that is what happened.

McCarthy and the House GOP now have more leverage with the Senate

Most analysis of McCarthy’s difficult path to the speaker’s gavel focuses on how the concessions he made weakened his leverage as speaker over his caucus. The important thing is they have greatly strengthened McCarthy’s own leverage over the Senate and the Biden White House.

Picture this. If McCarthy is in a room with McConnell, Biden, Jeffries, and Schumer, any conversation on the debt limit, defense spending, or Ukraine is likely to be 4-1. The other four participants will accept that the proposal “must” pass, and for them, the only question is how. Negotiations with McCarthy are not about whether those things will pass, but what McCarthy needs in order to pass them. Paradoxically, the stronger McCarthy’s own position, the weaker his leverage. If McConnell and Biden believe McCarthy can pass the legislation without concessions, they are less likely to make concessions.

However, if they all know that McCarthy does not have the power to agree because he has agreed to allow floor votes on spending bills, that those bills must also be approved by a rules committee with representation from the House Freedom Caucus, and that if he breaks his deal a single member can trigger a new election for speaker, then the situation is entirely different. Even if Biden, Schumer, and McConnell do not care about McCarthy’s political fate, they remember how long this process took, and on any time-sensitive legislation, the prospect of not having a speaker means not being able to pass any legislation.

The result of McCarthy being forced to accommodate the HFC is that the Senate and White House will have to take their concerns into account as well.

Rather than a weakness, the narrow GOP margin in the House has been turned into an asset when dealing with the other major powers in Washington.

House Democrats are Isolated

Hakeem Jeffries, in his concession speech, took pains to stress that he had led the first 13 ballots for speaker. That’s fine, as it will probably be the high point of his tenure in this Congress. By acquiring the ability to bring down McCarthy’s speakership, the HFC has acquired the ability to block legislation. Whatever Biden or Schumer’s sympathy for Jeffries personally, he cannot deliver legislation, and if joining with “moderate” Republicans to pass legislation through discharge petitions would result in no speaker, then it is not a viable option. As a result, Jeffries is likely to be sidelined in negotiations.

Jeffries is likely to be used to this. It was the fate of the Democrat minority in Albany during the decades the Republican Party held the state senate. He will also know it will make it hard to raise money, as lobbyists come to realize that House Democrats can do little. With the HFC fighting with other Republicans over committee spots, there is precious little left for Democrats.

The GOP Likely Emerges Unscathed

There are arguments that this battle has hurt the image of the GOP. To the extent the Republican Party maintained a brand for discipline, this might have been the case. After all, there used to be a saying, “I am not a member of an organized political party, I am a Democrat.” But for good or ill, that image is long gone, and impacts have to be looked at in terms of the participants.

The “moderate” Republicans were able to engage in extremely combative rhetoric against hardline conservatives, who are toxic in their districts, while still benefitting policy-wise from the concessions the HFC extracted. Someone like Dan Crenshaw or Nancy Mace can tell their suburban voters that they hate Matt Gaetz as much as those voters do and cite their language about hostage-takers and “terrorists.” If anything, they are more inoculated against association than before. Best of all, they have not had to actually anger conservatives by voting for liberal legislation, much less do anything to help Biden. It is a win-win for them.

The same is true of many of those HFC members in safe districts. When Paul Gosar or Matt Gaetz said the vast majority of Republicans in their district did not care for Kevin McCarthy, they were telling the truth. They have gained credibility for standing up for their beliefs, and if those beliefs may be a minority with the public at large, they are still held by millions, and if anything underrepresented in Congress.

Others have managed to improve their profile. Marjorie Taylor Greene has reinvented herself as a dealmaker, working closely with Donald Trump, whose intervention, originally mocked by the media as proving his impotence, instead turned out decisive when Greene was seen handing a phone with Trump on a call to the remaining holdouts, and securing McCarthy his victory. Trump took a risk, one his rivals were not willing to take, and it paid off.

The only members who may suffer are ones whose principles caused them to act out of sync with their districts. Lauren Boebert of Colorado’s 3rd district won by only 600 votes, 50.1%-49.9%. Self-interest would have suggested she keep a low-profile. Instead, she was one of the final holdouts. She may well suffer in 2024, but if she does it will be because she chose to risk her career for what she believed.

There may also be a heightened importance in matching candidates to districts in 2024. One of the features of the 2022 midterms was a tendency of some voters to cast ballots for Republicans they viewed as traditional and vote against those they saw as less focused on local representation and more on national ideological struggles. The actions of the HFC have strengthened that brand for good and ill. While it will help the HFC in areas where that outlook is popular, it is likely that the association will be even more of a red line for many swing voters in less conservative areas. The GOP will need to do better than it did in 2022 to match candidates to their districts.

Conclusion

The battle for the speakership was a direct consequence of the failure of the Republican Party to win control of the U.S. Senate in November, and the subsequent demoralization of the Senate Republican leadership. While the process was without a doubt unpleasant for Kevin McCarthy, and infuriating for a number of individual members, most Republican House members emerged better off than they would have had it not taken place. The same is true of Donald Trump, who recaptured momentum after a sometimes difficult two months. The House as a whole also gained leverage in subsequent budget negotiations.

If the party is to be hurt, it will only be if the policies it chooses to pursue are unpopular, not because the struggle to select a leader undermined their ability to pursue them.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...

The AMAC Action Logo

Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.

Donate Now
Share this article:
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
58 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
antitrump
antitrump
1 year ago

Trump cheated his way to the presidency in 2016 with the help of Russia and Biden was cheated out of Florida, North Carolina, and Texas in 2020. Republicans suck. There’s no such thing as a moderate republican. All republicans are fringe extremists.

antitrump
antitrump
1 year ago

Kevin McCarthy is more corrupt even than Joseph McCarthy. He is not a moderate. He’s far right.

Jeri
Jeri
1 year ago

Time will tell this story.

mtice
mtice
1 year ago

I think this is a very well written analysis of what just happened. There is no doubt that the Republicans will be stronger because of it.

Philip Hammersley
Philip Hammersley
1 year ago

At least one error in above story: Turtle is not “demoralized;” he is a RINO crook who only does what is good for HIMSELF!

Tim Toroian
Tim Toroian
1 year ago

It was a demonstration of negotiation. It’s that needed in politics?

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Only RINOs & RNC Estd can block progress within

Bill
Bill
1 year ago

Sorry, lost interest.

Jeri
Jeri
1 year ago

Is there a way to block or mute people on this site?

Marc Ziegler
Marc Ziegler
1 year ago

The Republican Cavalry has arrived, just a few horses short, however, they now have the gavel, and they now have the power of the purse. Let see what they do with it. Wining in 2024 will depend on how well McCarthy and the House performs, making the Biden accountable for all the illegal things he and his Administration have done. When I see at least ONE Democratic go to jail or impeached for misconduct or misfeasance, I will then believe in the Republican Party! Then I will believe that they are on the right track in restoring faith in the political process and protecting our American way of life.

Grace
Grace
1 year ago

The Speaker of The House is exactly that–They speak for the house they interpret the wishes of the members of whichever party they represent. At least that was what it was supposed to be before Nancy Pelosi came to power and set about changing the rules. In doing this she literally took over her party and established the bully power of the Speaker as a new leader of the Democrats without input or consent of the Republican Party. I don’t think many, if any voters realize that during the pandemic Nancy gave the members of the Democratic party permission to stay home whenever needed and obtained their proxy to allow her to vote for them when they were away. I would love to have a copy of the role call for the last three years. . Because of the absences of the members that stack of Bills on Bidens desk for show were never actually legislated and signed by many of the members who Nancy’s proxy represented. .
When I first heard the rumbles of a discontented Republican membership I was furious. How could they make so much noise after coming so close to losing the house? What were they fighting for? I have been a Republican for almost seventy years and never had I witnessed such immature behavior. Then the more I listened the more I realized they were right. Unfortunately they were also too public about it. All of the changes the Republican members were demanding were not changes at all. They were rules that had been in place before former Democrat speakers were in office and managed to chip them away. States were losing their rights because the Central Government was lawyering them away. Members were becoming just a chorus to the script passed by a powerful Speaker/member filled with ‘earmarks’ and goodies for the party. Too much of the Omnibus Bill is filled with goodbye treats to those Democrats who are retiring except for the Delux Jogging trail for Michelle Obama. The last straw for the Republicans was the 450 pages of nonsense delivered for signing on the eve of the Christmas Holiday with no chance to read it before it had to be signed.. Oh President Biden took his Holiday on time and then had a special jet plane delivery to the Virgin Islands so he could sign it by midnight New Years Eve. So I’m happy with the new face of the Republican Party. It looks a lot more like all of us. I just hope they have enough determination and smarts to give it life for the future. In any case I will pray a lot.

phoenix
phoenix
1 year ago

It’s just a game. Nothing of consequence will happen,

  1. Investigations will be full of hot words and Gotcha moment soundbites” but even when its clear laws have been broken NOTHING will happen to anyone.
  2. Huge earth shaking bills will be passed. With the republicans knows that thankfully they have no hope of ever being passed.

Its theater Nothing more.

Kay
Kay
1 year ago

Shows republican party totally disarrayed and in my opinion will accomplish nothing as they can not agree on which bathroom is for women or which is a mans. Watch and see all the bull being passed

DelCarrie Mataraza
DelCarrie Mataraza
1 year ago

What will it take to take the Senate leadership away from McConnell? He was traitorous during the ’22 campaigns, refusing to fund Republicans and even speaking out loudly against many of them while at the same time looking like a Biden sycophant. McConnell is atrocious and disloyal. Why is he still the leader and how fast can we get rid of him?

GTPatriot
GTPatriot
1 year ago

It was great to see the discord in the House last week while conservatives put up a fight
to win promises to make changes that are severely needed. I hope to see more brawls
which is what it takes to change DC. Either Trump or brawls in congress. Preferably
both. A ” nice” Pelosi congress is made to go along to get along. Meanwhile it quietly
destroys the nation. So everyone is thinking that it makes no difference because the
Schumer Senate will never pass the House repub bills. What it will do is make the Senate
show their woke (weak) members so we can vote them out in 2024. And Papa Joe may have to show his hand also.

Bob Chase
Bob Chase
1 year ago

Pray this analysis is accurate. We need balance; which McConnell totally fails to provide in the Senate!

Thomas
Thomas
1 year ago

Our problem as financially responsible American’s do we sit back and allow our representatives via the media to become trapped.

We may loose a battle but we must not cave with bribes to our wallets or wants. We must focus on needs. A good first position would be to shift the school board out of the Fed back to the states. The parents are ready for this.

Reset Social Security to its initial, Not taxed and it’s own fund. By these two we gain the younger families, and grandparents. With social security we gain the newly retired and seniors.

Also put Matt Gates as chairman over the Hunter Biden kickbacks proscution board. He may lack experience but guts he has! You can put others with experience on the board for him to draw from.

All of the above are immediately doable. The democrats will be pressured to go along. Or they will be fighting better education, and retires.

But do our Representatives have the guts

Mike Bregg
Mike Bregg
1 year ago

The line about Marjorie Taylor Greene reinventing herself, I interpreted as an up and coming “political whore” with a wet finger in the air.
I sincerely pray that I’m wrong, but it seems some of her blasts have changed tone in the past 6 months.

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
AMAC’s Medicare Advisory Service
The knowledge, guidance, and choices of coverage you’re looking for. The exceptional service you deserve.
The AMAC App on 3 different iPhone
Download the AMAC App
The AMAC App is the place to go for insightful news wherever you are and whenever you want.
Democracy
Wikipedia
The View Logo
Welcome to the United States - The Statue of Liberty in New York

Stay informed! Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter.

"*" indicates required fields

58
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x

Subscribe to AMAC Daily News and Games