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Date: 2024-03-03 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00023916
US POLITICS
REPUBLICANS

McCarthy’s 21 Republican Defectors Didn’t Get Much ... That’s because the party already agreed with them.


Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), center, is seen during the election of the House Speaker, January 6, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington.

Original article: https://prospect.org/politics/2023-01-20-congress-mccarthy-republican-defectors/
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
Knowledge Tracker McCarthy’s 21 Republican Defectors Didn’t Get Much

That’s because the party already agreed with them.


BY DAVID DAYEN

JANUARY 20, 2023

Dayen-House GOP 012023.jpg

TOM WILLIAMS/CQ ROLL CALL VIA AP IMAGES

I’m certain that this is the first time I’ve quoted Marjorie Taylor Greene on anything, but she said something pretty interesting the other day. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the ringleaders of the group that stretched out the House Speaker election to 15 ballots, attempted to praise Greene, after she had committee assignments restored that Democrats had stripped in the previous Congress.

Greene, who made the tactical decision to support Kevin McCarthy for Speaker from the beginning, clapped back at Gaetz that his antics had wasted weeks, with the insurgent Never Kevins “only getting MTV from 5 to 1” to show for it. This is not about Music Television, but instead means changing the eligibility for the motion to vacate (MTV) the chair, which would force a full House vote to depose the Speaker, from requiring the votes of five House members to just one.

In a rare moment for Greene, this is empirically true, at least based on what we know publicly. You can indeed read the section-by-section of the draft rules of the House as of January 2, from before the votes for Speaker, read the section-by-section as of January 6, the day that the Speaker vote was resolved, and see that only the “MTV from 5 to 1” provision was actually changed.

More from David Dayen

But what about the secret three-page agreement, which included additional concessions not voted on by the House? We obviously don’t know what exists on those pages; it’s a secret. But we are starting to learn the results of what we think was included, and as much as it surprises me to say it, Greene has the better of the argument: The concessions to the insurgency were minimal at best. While making a lot of noise and giving C-SPAN viewers exciting camera angles for a week, nothing much of substance changed throughout those 15 votes.

I’m making a very specific argument here. I’m not saying that Kevin McCarthy ignored pleas from his far right and managed to win the Speaker’s gavel without concessions. He was forced into some important changes to democratize Congress, like more amendments on voting, the single-subject rule for bills that should prevent omnibus legislation, and a 72-hour notice before a bill is placed on the floor. But as Greene has pointed out, all of those decisions were made before anyone took any vote for Speaker on January 3, 2023.

In other words, Kevin McCarthy wasn’t hijacked by a small group of angry dissidents during a harrowing week of Speaker votes. McCarthy was “hijacked” years ago by the strain of conservative thought that has predominated since the late 1970s. In today’s Republican Party, everyone is a hijacker. And that’s what makes the next two years more dangerous.

As Punchbowl News has reported, the secret agreement is supposed to have “the most controversial concessions McCarthy made in order to become speaker.” They include a strategy for the debt limit fight, which is preposterous. McCarthy himself, speaking to Punchbowl News last October, revealed that he would use the debt limit as leverage to slash spending, just like every congressional Republican who has spoken on this subject. Even Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus who has intimated joining Democrats to force a debt limit increase through, said just last week that passing that should require some spending cuts. There is no daylight on this issue between the Never Kevins and every elected Republican in Washington, and that has been true for months.

Kevin McCarthy wasn’t hijacked by a small group of angry dissidents during a harrowing week of Speaker votes.

Then there’s the strategy of freezing spending at the levels of fiscal year 2022 and getting to a balanced budget within ten years. That was initially seen as hard-liners brokering a deal to remove $75 billion from the military budget, with the attendant smirks from some leftists that progressives in Congress couldn’t get that done. Except then Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and other Never Kevins said defense cuts “were never discussed.”

Roy was forthcoming about the budget votes to NBC News, acknowledging that his demands would not become law, but saying, “You only have so many leverage and negotiating points.” In other words, the demand is really just to use the leverage of must-pass legislation for negotiating purposes, which every single Republican has made a priority.

There’s a similar dynamic on a “promised” vote for a national “fair tax” bill that would abolish the IRS and enact a 30 percent consumption tax. Even the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), has said he probably wouldn’t put this up for a vote, since his colleagues were being pummeled by the prospect of a plan to put a giant tax on every good and service while simultaneously slashing taxes on the rich. So that’s another “concession” that wasn’t actually conceded.

We move on to the so-called “coveted committee assignments” that the 21 hard-liners were allegedly able to win. All of the committee assignments are not yet complete, but most of the A-level committees have made those announcements. According to NBC’s calculations, 10 of the 21 dissidents got exactly the same committee assignments that they did in the last Congress. Five other members were freshmen who got pretty much the normal committees freshmen get. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) just had committees restored that were stripped in the last Congress; McCarthy vowed to do that last March. Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) hasn’t yet gotten any assignments at all.

That leaves four dissident members out of 21 who got any new committees from holding out. Good for them, but by virtue of winning control of the House, there are more committee seats for Republicans to give out. There’s not an appreciable difference in your percentage chance of getting a new committee assignment if you were a holdout rather than someone who voted for McCarthy.

Now, one definitive concession was a commitment to put three members of the House Freedom Caucus on the powerful Rules Committee, which sets the terms by which bills come to the floor. But those names have not been announced. It’s entirely possible that McCarthy loyalists who also happen to be Freedom Caucus members—like Greene—get those three slots. Even if a loyalist gets one of the three, and then votes with Chair Rep. Tom Cole on everything, the hard-liners would not have the leverage to stop votes. (We also don’t even have confirmation on the size of the Rules Committee; if just one extra Republican was added, the Freedom Caucus faction couldn’t stop anything.)

Finally, there’s this commitment from the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF)—Speaker McCarthy’s super PAC for House races—to stay out of open-seat races in safely Republican districts. But CLF has hardly ever spent money in such a race before. The commitment sort of assures that CLF will not extend their work in primaries to those safe open-seat races, but of course it’s completely unenforceable, as CLF is an independent entity that’s not supposed to coordinate with politicians.

When you whittle this all down, you discover that the big concessions—on using legislative leverage, on changing the way the House works—were all made up front. What the hard-liners got at the end was infinitesimal. Lots of people are invested in a narrative of a few unreasonables leading the party and the country into ruin: the unreasonables themselves, the Democrats wanting to warn that the GOP was yanked to the right, congressional reporters telling a compelling story about an ideological showdown—even the House GOP leadership, who want everyone contented that they got their wishes. But it isn’t true.

The truth is that the Republican Party speaks with one voice. They want lower taxes, and less help for the vulnerable and needy, and pro-business deregulation—in other words, their economic strategy for the past half-century. They are eager to leverage social issues for political gain. On tactics, they want to use the veto points in the American system to force their opposition to accept unpopular policies. They want to create more of those veto points to serve anti-government goals. And there are no real dissenters within their caucus to these views.

We are careening toward catastrophe not because of a few hijackers, but because of an entire planeload of them. The sooner Democrats rid themselves of these incorrect narratives and understand the nature of the threat, the better.

DAVID DAYEN ... David Dayen is the Prospect’s executive editor. His work has appeared in The Intercept, The New Republic, HuffPost, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and more. His most recent book is ‘Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.’

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