The Sisyphean Speakership
What comes next will determine how long the new rules last
Conservative rebels wanted assurances that McCarthy would pursue major spending cuts and use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to obtain them.
To that end, McCarthy reportedly agreed to work to balance the budget over 10 years, in part by capping discretionary spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, a move that would set up a high-stakes fight between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.
It’s still unclear how ironclad these commitments are and what role they’d play in key negotiations on spending and raising the debt ceiling. But what’s public is already unnerving defense hawks, even as some conservatives say they expect to shield Pentagon spending.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he plans to vote against the Rules package because of the potential cuts to the defense budget. “How am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?” he said.
One question we don’t know the answer to yet, and won’t know for some time, is how permanent these negotiated changes will be. Proponents made a heavy push for the idea that these shifts were necessary to take on “the Swamp.” But the next Congress does not need to retain these rule changes; nor is any new speaker obliged to honor any of the handshake obligations McCarthy made to get this job.
If McCarthy is undermined as speaker thanks to these concessions, some will argue that they should be done away with by future Republican majorities. And if Democrats win the House back in 2024 — not something outside the realm of possibility — this week’s debacle will have been a lot of noise with a very brief impact.
Outside of the Hill, the McCarthy critics that abound in conservative media are unlikely to be satisfied by the deal. Their beef with McCarthy is more personal in nature: that he is too close to K Street, that he is a business conservative instead of a dyed-in-the-wool populist, and of course, that he had the audacity to appear on a book cover with Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan (peace be upon them).
They also dislike his manner and the genial way he approaches the job, instead of the fire-breathing tenor that plays so well from others. The policy shifting to the right in the wake of this deal matters — but not enough to make up for the fact that many just don’t like the guy…
McCarthy thanked several people after his win, but one Florida Man stands out: “I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning… he was all in. He would call me and call others. And he really was helping get those final votes.”
The speaker isn’t wrong to say this, though he is probably exaggerating the “final votes” part. The decision by Donald Trump to support him, and do so emphatically, took the wind out of the sails of those who dreamed of expanding beyond the 10 percent of the conference that initially opposed McCarthy. Had Trump opposed McCarthy or backed another horse after the initial stumbles, it could have absolutely turned into a wave, egged on by many of Trump’s loudest online supporters. But this never happened, as Trump once again held to his role of being the GOP leader — at least in his own mind.
So will any of Trump’s supporters react by turning on him over this, or openly questioning his judgment? Of course not. It’s always someone else’s fault when Trump does something “Establishment-friendly” or “swampy” — it’s always someone giving him bad advice or sending him down the wrong path. It couldn’t possibly be that Trump, after a cycle that both showed his dominance within the GOP and the toxicity of his support with Independent voters, needs McCarthy and the House GOP to succeed. But he does. So does everyone involved.
If this deal collapses into a mess of quarreling and motions to vacate the chair, it will reflect poorly on Trump’s choices — and undo the promises conservatives made about the essential nature of these internal reforms. They all signed on to this version of a McCarthy speakership; if it becomes a Sisyphean struggle to accomplish anything, then everyone involved with be blamed by Republican voters for failure to deliver and Independents for their chaotic nature.
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