Kevin McCarthy’s Craven Speakership Is Over

Kevin McCarthy’s Craven Speakership Is Over

All Kevin McCarthy wanted was to be Speaker of the House. Sure, he was never particularly good at political math. (Fifteen Speakership votes made that clear.) But this past weekend, after cobbling together a last-ditch continuing resolution—which kicked the looming government shutdown another 45 days down the road—the math, for McCarthy, finally added up.

That lasted a few days. McCarthy, in his desperation to become Speaker in January, tried to satisfy his far-right flank by reversing a House rule so that any one member could bring up a motion to vacate and give up the gavel. Enter his longtime nemesis Matt Gaetz, who filed on Monday a motion to vacate that couldn’t be stopped Tuesday afternoon on a procedural vote, setting the stage for some Republican-on-Republican violence. As Democrats watched, silently, unified, GOP members of Congress debated whether McCarthy should be kept or dumped. “Looks like failure theater,” Gaetz scoffed at Jim Jordan’s mention of the House Oversight Committee’s investigatory efforts.

Next came the vote on whether to remove McCarthy, which passed 216 to 210, with eight Republicans voting “yes.” The House will need to choose a new Speaker, and it remains to be seen who Republicans nominate—and if McCarthy is a contender—as House Democrats will surely coalesce around Hakeem Jeffries, as they did in January. 

It’s worth rewinding a bit to appreciate how rich this is: For the last several months, Gaetz and his fellow members of the chaos caucus have been courting a government shutdown by stonewalling several House funding bills that would keep the government open. Gaetz has largely done so by way of bluster, threatening to file a motion to vacate McCarthy if he doesn’t bend the knee. And as late as Saturday morning, it seemed like the Speaker would cave—largely thanks to Donald Trump, who has exhorted Republicans to “shut down the government” if they “can’t make an appropriate deal.”

But then something miraculous happened: McCarthy—yes, Kevin McCarthy—displayed a modicum of gumption. Instead of pushing hard-line spending cuts espoused by Gaetz and company, he floated a “clean” stopgap measure that would keep essential government organs running. Sure, he only gave Democrats little time to review it, which one Democratic lawmaker reportedly called “the dumbest political move I’ve seen in a long time. You need us, you fucking idiot!” And sure, it might have been 99% identical to the Senate’s continuing resolution, which had sailed through the much saner upper chamber twice. But the point is: He passed the thing. “We funded the government and avoided all of the extreme, nasty, harmful cuts MAGA Republicans wanted,” as Senator Chuck Schumer told me Monday. “No 30% cuts to things like health care. No cuts to the Social Security Administration. No cuts to nutrition programs for kids. Scores of poison pill, MAGA-inspired riders were removed.”

Of course, Schumer had been telling McCarthy this was the only way to keep the government open all along. And it seems that after some hard thought, McCarthy conceded, perhaps calculating that mad voters are worse than an angry Trump. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, then yes: That’s quite a departure for someone so spineless as to kiss Trump’s ring just weeks after condemning his role on January 6. So what gives?

Well, it might have a little something to do with a different—and yet equally asinine—Republican pet project: impeaching Joe Biden. Thursday’s impeachment hearings went about as bad as they could have gone, with the conference’s own two witnesses throwing cold water on the entire affair. “I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” as witness Jonathan Turley testified. Bruce Dubinsky, the second witness, likewise argued that “I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud, or any wrongdoing…more information needs to be gathered before I can make such an assessment”—the assessment being whether Biden abused his office for his and his family’s gain.

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