Does Kevin McCarthy really think that Democrats are going to save him as speaker?

Speaker Kevin McCarthy
Speaker Kevin McCarthy Photo: Shutterstock

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) managed to avoid a shutdown of the federal government last Saturday with a last-minute maneuver that angered Democrats (it temporarily eliminates funding for Ukraine) and infuriated the far-right members of his own party.

It’s all downhill from there.

McCarthy is now facing an effort to remove him from the speakership by the cadre of fantasists who believed that they could force the majority of Congress to accept draconian spending cuts that no one else wanted. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who is currently being investigated by the GOP-led House Ethics Committee on a range of issues including sexual misconduct, is leading the charge against McCarthy.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz said yesterday.

The two men despise each other, but Gaetz has a particular bone to pick with McCarthy. McCarthy had promised only to bring bills to the floor if they could pass solely with Republican support. The continuing resolution that kept the government open passed, but more Democrats voted for it than Republicans. (The vote in the Senate was far less partisan.)

So what we’re about to have is a replay of the circus last January, when it took 15 votes for McCarthy to secure the speakership. At the time, it was easy to see that this was the beginning of two years of GOP chaos.

The ultra-conservatives who objected to McCarthy back then only agreed to vote for him because McCarthy made multiple promises, weakening his power in the process. Chief among them was allowing a single member to file a motion to vacate, the technical phrase for firing the speaker.

Gaetz, who never voted for McCarthy as speaker, now plans to file a motion to vacate. If that one doesn’t succeed, he’ll just keep filing them, both in hopes of succeeding and simply to harass McCarthy. McCarthy says he is confident that he’s not going anywhere.

That may be misplaced confidence. It only takes four Republicans to defect and McCarthy has to turn to Democrats to keep him on as speaker. The question is whether Democrats want to do McCarthy any favors.

Perhaps some moderate Democrats want to boast about their bipartisan credentials, but traditionally, the speaker is elected solely by members of his or her party alone. Moreover, McCarthy has given Democrats plenty of reasons to hate him, starting with the ridiculous impeachment hearings against President Joe Biden that McCarthy authorized.

“You’re wasting your time on that guy because he has no sway in the House of Representatives except to get on TV and to raise money on the internet,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), McCarthy’s predecessor as speaker, said Sunday.

But if McCarthy is thrown out, there’s no apparent successor. Who would want the job? With such a tiny margin for a majority, the right-wing can effectively grind everything to a halt any time it wishes.

In fact, that’s the whole point. The GOP is now being run by a handful of extremists who have no interest in governing. They simply want to blow government up. If they don’t get their way, they will shut it down. They don’t care about consequences. If the House of Representatives is leaderless, that’s okay by them.

It would be nice to think that McCarthy was standing up to the loony right when he decided to push forward with a measure to keep the government open. His calculation seems less noble: he didn’t want the GOP to be blamed for shutting down the government – again. (The last three major shutdowns were all courtesy of Republicans.)

McCarthy may have inadvertently done the right thing, but we will now have to endure an excruciating replay of the carnival that made him speaker in the first place. One thing is certain: no matter how long McCarthy’s tenure is, he will go down in history as one of the most ineffective speakers in the history of the House.

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