Driving the Republican stalemate over the election of a new House speaker is a belief among supporters of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that his insurgent opponents are not honest negotiators.
Much attention has been devoted to the 20 or so House Republicans who have sunk McCarthy’s bid for speaker in six floor votes over two days. Speculation over what it would take to win enough of them over to deliver McCarthy the gavel has been rampant for weeks leading up to the half-dozen roll call votes that unfolded Tuesday and Wednesday.
But even as McCarthy supporters continue to pursue talks with this faction to resolve the impasse, they are complaining publicly that the group is negotiating in bad faith. The insurgents claim the conservative pragmatists supporting McCarthy are making unfair and unrealistic requests in exchange for their votes or refusing to support the California Republican even after having their demands met.
In a Twitter post, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), a staunch McCarthy supporter, called one of the ringleaders of the anti-McCarthy faction, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), “a fraud.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), another McCarthy backer, had more of the same to say about the California Republican’s opponents in an interview on Fox News.
“They say their goal is some noble cause for the cause of conservatism, for the people, for holding the swamp accountable,” Crenshaw said. “These are the phrases that they’ll use to make themselves seem like they’re some white knights out there to save you. Of course, none of this is true. None of this is true whatsoever.”
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Republicans won the House majority in the midterm elections but just barely, leaving McCarthy with just four votes to spare to win the speaker’s gavel — and leaving his conference with just four votes to spare to pass legislation in the 118th Congress versus united Democratic opposition.
This dynamic has empowered a distinct minority of House Republicans to overrule the majority and grind the gears of the chamber to a halt absent cooperation with the Democrats. A Republican operative sympathetic to the goals of some of McCarthy’s opponents worried they might overplay their hand.
“It behooves them to cut a deal that works. If they kill Kevin, they likely end up with nothing,” this GOP operative said. “From a conservative perspective, with McCarthy, you’ll have a speaker who understands his situation and will be constantly aware and walking on eggshells and have no choice but to deliver for the Right.”
McCarthy was designated the Republican nominee for House speaker in a vote of the GOP conference late last year, winning by a wide margin over nominal opposition.
But roughly 10% of McCarthy’s Republican colleagues voted against him, and those members have stood their ground this week. Winning the speaker’s gavel requires a vote of 218 House members in a floor vote. And with the incoming House GOP majority resting on barely a handful of seats, the insurgents number more than enough to derail McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
In interviews and statements, the House Republicans opposing the California Republican insist they are making a principled stand against corrupt Washington politics in an effort to repair a dysfunctional Congress. These members reject accusations that they are negotiating in bad faith and argue their opposition to McCarthy is not personal.
“D.C. is fundamentally broken,” Rep.-elect Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) said in a statement. “I will stand strong until we get a speaker who will fight for the American people and fix the chaos and corruption in our nation’s Capitol. I will continue to stand firm against all forms of pressure.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who was nominated for speaker by McCarthy opponent Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) on Wednesday and received 20 votes in successive votes, told the Washington Examiner he abandoned his previous support for the California Republican because “at the end of the day, we’ve got to get to 218 so we can get the business of Congress started.”