Kevin McCarthy Just Notched a Victory. His Speakership is Perpetually on the Brink, According to the Press.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) / Getty Images
June 1, 2023

Well, that was a plot twist for the mainstream media.

How many times has the media written House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's political obituary? They were doing so up until the moment on Wednesday evening when the House passed a plan—with an overwhelming majority of Republicans backing the measure—to suspend the debt ceiling for two years. 

"Anger over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's deal with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling is bubbling over, with some conservative members threatening to oust McCarthy as speaker."

"The compromise has drawn the ire of right-wing Republicans, leaving open the possibility that its passage could jeopardize Mr. McCarthy’s standing on Capitol Hill, where any one lawmaker has the power to call a snap vote to oust him thanks to a rule Mr. McCarthy agreed to while he was grasping for support from the far right to be elected speaker in January." 

"There were rumblings of a revolt against the agreement by House Freedom Caucus members shortly after it was announced on Saturday night. While conservatives likely can’t kill the agreement on their own, they can make McCarthy’s life miserable depending on how far they take their displeasure."

"House Speaker Kevin McCarthy helped secure a debt limit deal – now he has to secure its passage in the House, with little room for error and a looming threat to his speakership."

"The conservative unease with the agreement is raising the question of if McCarthy will soon face a vote to oust him as Speaker. During the drawn-out Speakership election in January, McCarthy agreed to lower the threshold to force a vote on ousting the Speaker — known as the motion to vacate the chair — from five members to just one."

The narrative began, of course, with the 15-round vote in early January that made McCarthy speaker. 

"As Kevin McCarthy muddles through the fourth day of his anarchic battle for the House speakership, it remains as unclear as ever if the California Republican can muster the votes to prevail."

In his five-month speakership, the press has assured us time and again that McCarthy’s speakership is on the verge of extinction.

First came the initial debt ceiling battle in April.

"If Biden doesn’t come to the table, the country is at the mercy of an erratic Republican majority that the Speaker himself can barely control. If he does, the Republicans will have got him there through sheer bullying. And then what? No one expects hard-line House Republicans to give any ground. McCarthy would have to be willing to cut a deal that risks his Speakership"

"There remain huge questions over whether McCarthy, presiding over a tiny majority that’s beset by ideological divides, can unite his troops behind his effort. And if he can’t pass even this preliminary messaging bill, his authority will be in tatters."

"Why it matters: Unlike January's speaker election, in which GOP unity and McCarthy's personal ambitions were the main assets at stake, the House's vote 'in the coming weeks' could determine whether the U.S. economy averts a catastrophic default.

"That outcome will depend on McCarthy's ability to unite the fractious Republican conference around a plan — the full details of which have not been unveiled — to cut spending and lift the debt ceiling into next year.

"Failure to do so could cost McCarthy the job he spent four days, 15 ballots and massive political capital attempting to secure — and hand Democrats new leverage to pass a ‘clean’ debt ceiling hike." 

But McCarthy united House Republicans behind a bill and forced President Joe Biden to the negotiating table.

That success kicked off a new round of media analysis suggesting that McCarthy would be out of a job because he wouldn’t be able to negotiate a deal with Biden.

"A failure to pass the measure would have further dented McCarthy’s speakership after a farcical 15 rounds of voting that the Californian needed to win his dream job in January. But after days of intense bargaining with rebel lawmakers, he proved he can at least wield his tiny majority and unify his conference after the measure passed 217-215. Four Republicans – the maximum number that could defect for the bill to pass – voted against the measure…

"But the major concessions on issues like midwestern ethanol subsidies, which the speaker made to win the vote, suggested that he is hardly a feared leader on his own side of the aisle. It sent the signal that holdout lawmakers can extract big giveaways in return for their votes. And McCarthy’s position as speaker, already weak after he offered multiple concessions to hardliners to win the gavel, was further eroded after GOP leaders ruled out any changes to the debt ceiling bill and then changed it."

"‘Gaetz or one of his allies now have the power to trigger a so-called ‘motion to vacate’ if McCarthy cuts a debt deal with Biden and the Democrats that they feel is too liberal. He was already one of four GOP lawmakers who voted against McCarthy’s debt ceiling package that narrowly passed the House 217-215 — with just one vote to spare.

"Gaetz and his camp believe they have the upper hand over McCarthy, said one Gaetz ally in Congress. ‘He didn’t get taken off one committee and he is right back in the news, and not in a negative light,’ the lawmaker said."

The media reported that Democrats would need to jump in to "save his gavel."

But that wasn’t his undoing, either. 

For the press, that set up a fresh crisis that would bring down the speaker: a negotiated bill that could unravel thanks to a GOP "rebellion." 

"To become speaker, McCarthy worked hard to appeal to those same forces, agreeing to revive a House rule that allows any single member to call for a vote to oust the speaker. Forcing him from office would require a majority vote.

"That threat hangs over McCarthy at every step as he tries to manage a debt ceiling deal."

"As criticism builds in Republican ranks over the debt ceiling deal struck by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and President Joe Biden, some hard-line conservatives have begun floating the idea of toppling the speaker."

"But as a former Republican White House official said over the weekend after the deal was announced: 'McCarthy is now on a clock.’"

Until next time, reporters!

Published under: Feature , Kevin McCarthy