Republicans are about to take control of the House. But they can’t control themselves

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) listens to a question at a press conference.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) listens to a question at a press conference. Photo: Screenshot

It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

Still reeling from an unexpectedly poor showing in the midterms, Republicans are now engaged in a pitched battle with one another over who will be running the party when the party assumes (very slim) control of the House in January.

With one election still to be determined, the GOP currently has a razor-thin majority of just three seats in the House. As the Democrats learned with their imaginary Senate majority, just a few members can grind the entire process to a standstill until they get what they want. Imagine an entire caucus made up of Sen. Kyrsten Sinemas (D-AZ)

That’s what the Republicans are facing right now. The caucus is called the Freedom Caucus, although the Bomb Throwers Caucus would be more apt. Even as the GOP is prepared to take over the House, the party is in complete disarray.

The personification of that chaos is Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the would-be Speaker of the House. Unlike Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), McCarthy rules with a Nerf fist. In a desperate effort to secure enough votes to be elected Speaker, he has promised the most extreme elements of the party powerful committee assignments and given them carte blanche to carry out the kind of investigations that will please the base and turn off swing voters.

“I think he has cut so many deals with bad people to get to this position that I think he’s not going to be a leader at all. I think he’ll be completely hostage to kind of the extreme wings of the Republican Party,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) told CNN. “And I frankly don’t think he’s going to last very long.” Kinzinger, who split with his party to serve on the January 6 Congressional investigation committee, is retiring from Congress.

Certainly, McCarthy has a number of the fringiest members of Congress on his side. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has clearly struck a deal with McCarthy for plum committee assignments in exchange for her support. (Greene was stripped of her committee assignemnts in 2021 because of violent statements she made.) Ditto Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is chomping at the bit to head up the House Judiciary Committee, where he can target his political enemies with subpoenas.

But a handful of equally hard-core right-wingers are refusing to back McCarthy. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and others have said that they will not vote for McCarthy, whom they consider insufficiently conservative.

That leaves the prospect of chaos when the Republicans finally take over in January. If McCarthy can’t win 218 votes, it’s not clear what will happen. It’s unlikely that a far-right alternative would succeed where McCarthy hasn’t. It’s possible that moderate Democrats may team up with establishment Republicans to pick someone both sides could live with.

What is clear is that whoever becomes Speaker will have little control over the GOP renegades. Just as former Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) struggled to maintain order in the fractious party, the new Speaker will find themself in an even worse situation. For one thing, with just three or four votes to spare, anyone can be a hostage-taker. For another, the House members are even more radical than they were before.

McCarthy might be the worst possible solution. He is such a feckless individual that he will do whatever he needs to to remain in power. He will bend to the will of the worst members of Congress, without regard to the consequences.

That means he will go all in on anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and hearings. If a few of his members want to gin up an investigation targeting doctors treating trans youth, McCarthy is going to agree to it. If they demand impeachment hearings of Adm. Rachel Levine, McCarthy won’t stop them. He’s powerless to do so.

While there’s a certain enjoyment in which the Republicans flail around, it comes at a high cost. The country will suffer under the House’s chaos and radical storms for two years. Even though a lot of what Republicans do will never amount to anything in terms of legislation, it will still be damaging, fueling the growing hate against LGBTQ+ people.

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