House grinds to a halt, plunged back into chaos

Back in January, when Representative Kevin McCarthy was elected to be speaker of the House after 15 ballots, my immediate reaction was that he was the speaker in name only. Embedded within the agreement that sealed his speakership was a ticking time bomb that allowed a single member of the House to file a motion to remove him from office. On Tuesday, that bomb exploded, leaving him without the speakership and with House Republicans once again plunged into chaos.

McCarthy’s ouster marks the first time that the speaker was removed from office by what’s known as a motion to vacate, and it was entirely for performative reasons. 

Representative Matt Gaetz has raised money off of his bid to oust McCarthy, and while he has a list of supposed grievances about McCarthy’s leadership, he offers no explanation of how ousting him is going to allow a future speaker to deliver better results for conservatives with a razor-thin House majority and Democratic control of the Senate and White House. 

Gaetz claims the last straw for him was McCarthy’s decision to pass a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown that depended on the votes of Democrats. This even though Gaetz would not agree to a Republican bill to keep the government open that would have improved McCarthy’s negotiating position. 

Put another way, Gaetz is supposedly mad that McCarthy allied with Democrats to pass a bill supported by 126 Republicans, but he just allied with Democrats to oust McCarthy – which was only supported by eight Republicans including himself.

While Gaetz should not be viewed as an honest broker, McCarthy also put himself in this position by cutting the deals he did in a desperate attempt to become speaker. At the time, I noted that he was in the position of either allowing Republicans to get blamed for the disruptions caused by governing failures, or cutting deals with Democrats to keep the government functioning and risking his ouster.

McCarthy calculated that once he got into the speakership, he would be able to placate his skeptics through various symbolic measures, populist messaging, his alliance with Donald Trump, and moves such as opening up the impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden. For awhile, his strategy seemed to be working as well as it could given the small majority, and I thought I might have to eat my words. But he could only keep up the high-wire act for so long.

Now, a few Republicans have plunged the House into disorder. It’s unclear how McCarthy could win another speaker vote at this point, and it’s also unclear who could thread the needle any better than he did. As of this writing, there is no clear path forward, and it’s hard to conceive of given that we are not dealing with rational actors.

Democrats, who did not lift a finger to rescue McCarthy, are enjoying the chaos on the other side. But they may come to regret their move. At the end of the day, McCarthy was willing to cut deals, because he didn’t want to see the debt ceiling breached or the government shut down. That may not be the case with whoever replaces him.

And now, the House will grind to a halt while Republicans pick the next speaker, who will still have to work with a Senate run by Democrats and a Democrat in the White House to accomplish anything other than investigations. Which, by the way, Kevin McCarthy already had operating.

So what comes next? Probably more epic faceplanting. Don’t take my word for it, either.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., was named speaker pro tempore immediately after the vote, and called for a recess to discuss the matter.

“The House will be paralyzed. We can expect week after week of fruitless [speaker] ballots while no other business can be conducted. The Democrats will revel in Republican dysfunction and the public will rightly be repulsed,” Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said before the final vote on McCarthy’s fate. “It will end when the Democrats are able to enlist a rump caucus of Republicans to join a coalition to end the impasse.”

Though McClintock predicted “this House will shift dramatically to the left,” other members interviewed this week said they did not yet see a solution — or a likely 56th speaker of the House.

Well, yes, that will be the most likely outcome, unless the eight House Republicans who created this mess suddenly reverse themselves and vote McCarthy back into the office. The rest of the caucus will not reward this behavior by electing a Gaetz-backed candidate, and they will likely push someone else who realizes that the GOP doesn’t control anything except the House.

The most likely way out of this impasse will be to find someone acceptable to enough Democrats to overcome the Rebel Alliance in the GOP. That’s what McClintock means, and that will be precisely where Gaetz et al will have led the Republican majority. And to get there, the GOP will likely have to give up its investigations into Biden Inc in order to get the House back underway.

House Republicans will meet to discuss their next steps. Good luck finding them.

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