Conservative Revolt Against McCarthy Erupts After Years of Anger
An entrenched and adamant group of 20 dissident Republicans, many of them long at odds with their leaders, this week are opposing McCarthy’s ascension to the top congressional post.
(Bloomberg) -- A rebellion by Republican hard-liners that’s blocking Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become House speaker has been brewing for years, fueled by anger at party leadership and deep suspicions of the veteran lawmaker.
An entrenched and adamant group of 20 dissident Republicans, many of them long at odds with their leaders, this week are opposing McCarthy’s ascension to the top congressional post over a list of grievances about House rules, ire over compromises with Democrats and a lack of trust in the Californian’s claim to conservative credentials.
“Mr. McCarthy has a history that is off-putting to some people,” said Arizona Representative Andy Biggs, one of the leaders of the revolt.
McCarthy’s struggles over the opening days of the new Congress turned what should have been a triumphant moment for Republicans after having won back control of the House into a demonstration of the increasing division over the party’s identity and its future direction. It also portends bigger fights ahead with wider implications for the country.
McCarthy has failed to break the opposition as the House voted six times over the last two days to elect a speaker. In an attempt to break the impasse, McCarthy and some of his allies met with a few of the dissidents.
Still, there was no resolution, and the House adjourned Wednesday night without taking another vote, leaving the post unfilled and the chamber in limbo.
Some of his allies suggested the drama could extend into next week before either McCarthy is elected or backs down.
This marks the second time McCarthy has hit roadblocks in a bid for speaker. In 2015, Ohio Republican John Boehner quit as speaker and resigned from the House after dealing with rebellions by conservative Republicans. McCarthy was widely seen as the favorite to replace him, but he backed down in the face of their opposition.
Now a new group of hardliners, with many of the same complaints, is standing in his way.
“It’s not personal for us,” Representative Scott Perry, chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said on the House floor. “It’s about the policies that come out of here.”
Many in the group are demanding changes to rules governing how legislation is brought to the floor and voted on, as well as making it easier for a small number of lawmakers to force a vote to topple a speaker.
Perry expressed frustration with a series of omnibus spending packages jammed through by both Democratic and Republican leaders alike, year after year.
“I’m not for the restrictive nature of this place where eight people run it and the rest of us just vote yes or no,” he said.
Another McCarthy foe, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, told reporters there’s a “trust” issue over his votes on past spending packages.
“Could Kevin McCarthy all of a sudden morph into a fiscal conservative?” he asked.
Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of McCarthy’s most vocal detractors, has made his opposition more personal, lambasting him as a creature of the Washington “swamp” who does the bidding of corporate lobbies.
“If you want to Drain the Swamp, you CANNOT put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise!” he said in a fundraising email sent amid the speaker votes. “We’re talking about someone who the corrupt DC special interests can always count on to be their lapdog.”
McCarthy has made efforts to neutralize right-wing critics. He pulled himself close to former President Donald Trump after first criticizing him for his actions when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
McCarthy ultimately opposed his impeachment, flip-flopped against a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection and traveled to Mar-a-Lago to renew an alliance with the defeated president.
Trump, who still has sway in some parts of the Republican Party, sent a message for support on Wednesday. But it didn’t change a vote.
McCarthy also has sought to ingratiate himself with members such as Georgia Representative and conservative firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene. She endorsed him after McCarthy had pledged to return her to committees, as did Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, one of the leaders of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.
But it hasn’t been enough.
McCarthy also is caught in another dynamic that has rattled both parties in the past two years: newer members who view Congress as completely dysfunctional and want a fresh batch of leaders who will change things. McCarthy, 57, has been climbing the House GOP leadership ranks since 2008.
Representative Dan Bishop of North Carolina, who was first elected in 2019, said his opposition to McCarthy is pegged to a need for a changing of the guard.
“If you think Washington has been performing well, you should be mad at me for trying to change it,” he said. “It’s not entirely his fault.”
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