House disrupters will be lingering problem for GOP

Rep. Chip Roy
Rep. Chip Roy
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, talks to reporters in Statuary Hall about their opposition to voting for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to be speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)(Jose Luis Magana / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

The historically long process to choose a new U.S. House speaker highlights the power of a few insurgents to affect politics at the highest level.

Twenty Republicans, with at least six of them hardened in their positions, denied California Republican Kevin McCarthy the speakership for 14 rounds of voting. That’s the most time it’s taken to elect a House speaker since 1923, when Massachusetts Republican Frederick Gillett won on the ninth ballot. In 1855, Nathaniel Banks, a member of the American Party, was elected speaker after a record 133 votes.

Few speaker contests have been as dramatic as McCarthy’s odyssey.

The race ultimately ended Friday night when Chip Roy of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria and newly elected Keith Self of McKinney joined other Republicans in dropping their opposition to McCarthy. But four Republicans voted against McCarthy and two — Florida’s Matt Gaetz and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert — voted present. That denied McCarthy the speakership and continued the GOP’s embarrassing family feud.

But then McCarthy worked a deal with Gaetz and won speakership on the 15th vote. According to media reports, former President Donald Trump called into the House chamber to convince anti-McCarthy Republicans to give up the stalemate.

“I’ll be honest. It’s not how I had planned,” McCarthy said during his acceptance speech.

Polarization empowers the fringe

How did a small cadre of insurgent Republicans bring the House to a standstill?

Polarization.

The inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together has empowered minority factions in both parties. A bipartisan approach could have resulted in McCarthy winning the speaker’s race in short order.

But Democrats held the line, using their 212 votes to back New York’s Hakeem Jeffries. He’s now the new House minority leader.

McCarthy and his allies didn’t ask Democrats for help. That’s because consorting with Democrats would put a lawmaker in bad stead with grassroots Republicans who dominate the GOP primary process. The threat of being ousted from office for dealing with a member of the other party is real, particularly in GOP circles.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (right) talked with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during the 13th...
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (right) talked with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during the 13th vote in the House chamber as the House met for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)(Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

McCarthy had to win the speaker’s race within his own caucus, and that gave each GOP member greater clout. That influence will continue as the 2024 elections loom and create more headaches for Republicans who want to focus on their conservative message, instead of infighting and tough general elections with insurgents as their party’s standard bearers.

Democrats had a similar problem, but former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to keep her caucus unified. Remember noise from progressives about not supporting President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan until a more expansive, progressive companion piece of legislation was approved? That insurgency never occurred.

Draining the swamp?

Though small, the anti-McCarthy forces got big concessions.

Expect small minorities inside the GOP caucus to heavily influence House legislation and potential investigations, and McCarthy could be in a weaker position than former speakers.

According to reports, the new speaker has agreed to allow any single member of the House to call for a vote to oust the speaker. He also conceded that his leadership political action committee would stay out of GOP primary contests, something insurgents have complained about in the past.

McCarthy’s team will allow votes on a number of insurgent wish list items, including term limits and a balanced budget amendment. Such proposals are unlikely to get through the House. McCarthy also promised that any debt ceiling hike would come with spending cuts.

Insurgents are expected to get key posts on several powerful committees.

For many Americans who want to change the swampy politics of Washington, the House disruption was American democracy in action.

After the tough fight, it was compelling to watch Jeffries present the gavel to McCarthy.

Insurgents influential in Texas

Even outside of Washington, the power of hard-core conservatives can be felt.

In 2021 the Texas Legislature approved laws that appeared to mollify Trump supporters, including tighter controls of the mail-in ballot process, policies aimed at curbing social media censorship and allowing residents to carry guns without a permit.

Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan, the presumptive Texas House speaker, has had to stand up to activists who want him to deny Democrats chairmanships on House committees.

Republican speakers in the Texas House have won with support from Democrats.

Dade Phelan, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, addressed the audience during a...
Dade Phelan, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, addressed the audience during a reception at the 2022 Republican Party of Texas State Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Houston on Thursday, June 16, 2022.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Redistricting impact

The polarization of the political parties will continue because the 2021 redrawing of congressional and Texas legislative boundaries protected Democratic and Republican incumbents. That means the political fringe will have greater influence in primaries. Since Republicans control the state, their insurgents are as powerful as ever.

The success of the Republican House disrupters will embolden insurgents across the country to continue their fight against the establishment. That could cause problems for Republicans, because insurgent candidates typically don’t win statewide or swing-district races.

Consider the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans could have had a greater majority in the House, and maybe won the Senate, if they hadn’t had election deniers and other problematic candidates who lost general election races that traditional Republicans would have won.

The stakes are just as high in 2024, with Trump mounting another run for the White House.

Can the gridlock in Washington ease?

There are some issues, like abortion and immigration, on which Democrats and Republicans will always be at loggerheads.

But there’s so much more on the table on which the parties can find common ground, if they tried.

If they don’t make an effort at working together, the disrupters who rely on polarization will thrive.

McCarthy has a fresh start. Let’s see how he handles it.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California reacted after being sworn in on the House floor...
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California reacted after being sworn in on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)(Andrew Harnik / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.

Would-be U.S. House speaker McCarthy loses 11th ballot on Day 3 of Capitol stalemate

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting room at the Capitol as he negotiates with fellow GOP lawmakers blocking his bid for speaker on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.(J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By Joseph MortonRebekah Alvey and Todd J. Gillman

WASHINGTON — California Republican Kevin McCarthy was discussing more concessions to the holdouts in his party Thursday evening, but any progress being made behind closed doors had yet to manifest on the House floor as he lost the 11th ballot in an increasingly bitter GOP impasse over picking a U.S. House speaker.

Lawmakers-elect then voted to adjourn until noon Friday. That vote, just after 8 p.m., was 219-213, with all Democrats trying to keep the House in session and all but one Republican voting to take a breather.

Reporters pressed McCarthy on how much longer the process could drag on, but he would not provide a timeline and indicated the back-and-forth between members just represents life with a super-thin majority.

“The entire conference is going to have to learn how to work together, so it’s better that we go through this process right now,” McCarthy said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

He also pushed back on the idea that his power — should he win the speakership — would be undermined after agreeing to reinstate the “motion to vacate” that could then be used to remove him.

“That’s the way it’s always been except for the last speaker. I think I’m very fine with that,” McCarthy said. “… I would only be a weaker speaker if I were afraid of it. I am not a weak. I won’t be a weak speaker.”

Richmond Republican Troy Nehls nominated McCarthy on the 9th ballot, saying McCarthy has been the House Republican leader for the past four years and enjoys “overwhelming support” within the conference.

Nehls described himself as a proud member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and called for an end to the Republican-on-Republican fighting. He said the 20 members who have been voting for candidates other than McCarthy have been able to express their concerns and have many of them addressed.

“This motion allows us, the Republican conference, to hold the speaker accountable,” Nehls said.

Republicans have been entrusted with the House majority because Americans want a change of direction, he said, adding that McCarthy understands their priorities.

“We must secure our southern border, we must unleash our energy sector and become energy independent,” Nehls said. “We must curb inflation by … reducing spending. And we must support our law enforcement officers, folks. We’ve got to get crime under control.”

But his entreaties were in vain.

McCarthy made no progress on the seventh through 11th ballots as 20 defectors continued to cast their votes for people other than their party’s leader in roll call after roll call.

Matt Gaetz of Florida became the first this week to cast votes for Donald Trump for speaker.

It has never been done, but there’s nothing in the Constitution barring a non-member from serving as speaker. The former president has endorsed McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, but that support has — so far — failed to sway the conservative members blocking McCarthy.

Among the Republicans in McCarthy’s way are three Texans: Chip Roy of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria and Keith Self of Plano.

The other 22 Texas Republicans elected to the House in November have stood by McCarthy, while the state’s Democrats are united behind their new leader in the chamber, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

Republican Pete Sessions of Waco said on CNN there were rumblings that headway was being made on a deal, one that could win over at least some of the holdouts but possibly not enough to get McCarthy over the top.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be a reality check by all of us about what we think,” Sessions said.

Roy could be seen dashing between votes on the floor and the negotiations. Speaking to reporters, he declined to commit to bringing over a certain number of holdouts.

“Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to make this place better,” he said. “And then we’ll see where everybody lands in terms of their votes. That’s all I can do.”

CNN and other outlets reported McCarthy is willing to change the House rules to allow a single member to call for a vote to remove the sitting speaker, a key demand for some of his opponents.

McCarthy also would agree to have the House vote on measures such as congressional term limits and allow more of the body’s most conservative members to serve on the Rules Committee that controls the flow of legislation and dictates terms of floor debate.

Cloud said this week that the fight, for him, has always been about process rather than personality.

“This is about putting Congress on the right path, making the structural reforms needed to fix how this place works for the American people,” Cloud said. “So who the speaker is has always been, to me, secondary to us as a conference coming together and agreeing on those things, those processes that are going to make this place work.”

But it was telling that Cloud would not commit to supporting McCarthy even if he agrees to all of the rules changes being sought by the holdouts. Instead, Cloud said his votes would “speak for themselves.”

‘We’ll get through this’

Cloud said the two sides have worked for months to reach an agreement and have made progress. But he said that progress relies on trust that has been eroded this week. And he downplayed the impact on most people in the country.

“Sometimes, people here feel like we’re the center of the world,” he said. “And the work we do is important; I’m not making light of it. But most Americans are still going to wake up tomorrow and go to work. And we’ll get through this.”

McCarthy failed to reach the necessary 218 votes to become speaker on three consecutive ballots Tuesday when the 118th Congress convened.

He failed on three more on Wednesday before a wild floor vote to adjourn went down to the wire. Amid a flurry of late votes and much shouting, Republicans were able to adjourn until 11 a.m. CT Thursday.

Roy has been a prominent figure in the fight and delivered an impassioned nominating speech for Florida Republican Byron Donalds. He and the other Texas holdouts voted for Donalds repeatedly during Thursday’s ballots.

The standoff has led to increasing tension inside the Republican ranks. Pat Fallon of Sherman and Dan Crenshaw of Houston are among those who have blasted holdouts and suggested they are motivated by personal political ambition.

Crenshaw has vowed not to vote for any candidate other than McCarthy because he says they can’t let the “terrorists” win.

“There is no alternative” to McCarthy, Crenshaw said on Fox News during the 9th ballot. “They don’t have a consensus candidate. It’s inaccurate to say that McCarthy is losing momentum here. It’s completely the opposite. … We will wait this out. We are far more stubborn than the other side [because] we are standing for the sanctity of the institution.”

Crenshaw dismissed Donalds, who won a second term in November, as not a credible alternative.

“He’s a freshman who started five minutes ago. That’s not running. He didn’t raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the Republican majority in multiple election cycles,” he said. “If you set this precedent, where a mere 20 people can just destroy the conference of over 200, it sets a terrible precedent and they’ll just keep taking scalps.”

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., left, talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during the 11th vote on...
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., left, talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during the 11th vote on choosing a speaker for the 118th Congress on Jan. 5, 2023.(Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

While McCarthy allies were hoping additional concessions could bring the messy process to a conclusion, it’s unclear whether enough of the holdouts are willing to back him under any circumstances. It’s possible they will only relent after McCarthy steps aside and clears the way for another candidate, such as the No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The lack of a speaker prevents the House from forming committees and passing legislation. Some members have complained they have been unable to hold meetings with top military officials because they don’t technically have security clearance at the moment.

Until a speaker is chosen, there are essentially no members in the U.S. House of Representatives — only members-elect. A speaker is needed to swear in new and returning members of the chamber.

Roy has been asked many times by reporters this week how long the stalemate will continue and has given slight variations of the same answer.

“Until we get it right,” he said.

Washington bureau correspondent Emily Caldwell contributed to this report.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, center, followed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., right, leaves a...
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, center, followed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., right, leaves a private meeting with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a room just off the chamber as McCarthy struggles with lawmakers in his own party to elect become speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy says Texas essential in Republican effort to seize U.S. House

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy is swinging through Texas to raise money and meet with GOP candidates as 2022 election season blooms.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, speaks, Thursday, Jan., 20, 2022, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Accompanied by dozens of House Republicans he commented on President Joe Biden’s first year in office. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)(Jacquelyn Martin / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Texas would play a major role this year in the party’s efforts to seize control of the U.S. House and help sell the GOP brand to voters.

“Texas team will be a strong base for Republicans being elected,” McCarthy told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “I don’t think it’s just in Congress. It’s up and down the ballot, including school boards.”

McCarthy, the House minority leader from California, is in Texas this week to raise campaign cash for 2022 and meet with various GOP candidates for Congress. On Thursday he had a series of meetings in Dallas and Houston.

Texas has the largest Republican delegation to Congress, and it’s important for Republicans to hold serve or make gains during the midterm elections. The Texas Legislature fortified Republican congressional districts and split the two new districts earmarked for Texas with Democrats.

Republicans now have a 23-13 advantage in the delegation to the U.S. House. Analysts expect a 24-14 GOP advantage after the 2022 elections. State lawmakers bolstered the lone swing district in North Texas that is now represented by Republican Beth Van Duyne, the former Irving mayor.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., right, speaks next to Chair of the House Republican Conference Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Thursday, Jan., 20, 2022, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Accompanied by dozens of House Republicans they commented on President Joe Biden’s first year in office. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)(Jacquelyn Martin / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

McCarthy’s visit comes as he finalizes the GOP’s “Commitment for America” platform for the 2022 midterm elections. The plan harkens back to 1994s’ “Contract for America,” created by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is helping McCarthy craft his plan.

McCarthy said the Commitment for America includes policies that protect and expand parental rights for educating children, develop economic policies that counter the rise of China, renew the push for energy independence, secure the nation’s southern border with Mexico and push familiar GOP themes related to cutting taxes and ending unnecessary regulation. The plan, which also involves several other House Republican leaders, is expected to be released this summer.

“As we bring these all together and lay it out to the entire American public, they’ll see this is exactly the legislation that will be passed and that they can trust us with the majority.”

But Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa criticized McCarthy’s visit to Texas. He said the Republican influence in Texas is waning.

“They were hoping that they were be able to redistrict to pick up seats in Texas,” Hinojosa said. “They were able to hold the line in a way that they aren’t going to lose any seats in Texas, but they won’t gain any seats either.”

As McCarthy pushes for a modern contract with America, some Republican candidates in Texas and throughout the country are running campaigns that highlight grievances advanced by former President Donald Trump, who continues to insist he won the 2020 presidential election. Hinojosa hammered that point.

“Their message to voters is that It’s all right to try to overturn the government through violence,” Hinojosa said. “It’s a commitment to an undemocratic America.”

While not mentioning Trump, McCarthy said voters would be the final arbiters of the political discourse.

“The public will always decide the most important issues,” McCarthy said. “The most important issue is facing the public right now is the rising cost of prices.”

McCarthy said Republican candidates would be boosted by a sentiment that President Joe Biden is leading the country in the wrong direction.

“The intensity level on the Republican side and with independents is greater than anybody can see right now,” McCarthy said, adding that voters are frustrated about rising prices for household needs, an “unsecure border,” and the prospect of schools being closed because of the pandemic.

McCarthy also defended the border security efforts of Gov. Greg Abbott, who is dealing with criticism that the Texas National Guard troops along the border were hastily deployed without proper equipment, regular pay or a clear purpose. Four soldiers involved in the deployment, which is part of an overall border security effort called Operation Lone Star, have died by suicide.

Abbott has said critics of the deployment are “playing politics.”

“I applaud the states for doing it, but they shouldn’t have to because it’s a federal responsibility,” McCarthy said, adding that things were better under Trump-era border policies. “President Biden should never have changed any of the executive orders. Before that point … the border was secure.”

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