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Kevin McCarthy’s Political Career Went up in Flames
Kevin McCarthy received a harsh lesson: There’s a cost associated with contributing to the ignition of an establishment and then seeking assistance from the fire department to rescue your office.
The Californian Republican spent nine months in the role of House speaker attempting to appease an unyielding faction of far-right Republicans, capitulating to their demands in ways that harmed the integrity of the House.
Their insatiable nature led them to turn on Kevin McCarthy, ultimately culminating in the vote to remove him from the speakership on Tuesday.
By late Monday, it became evident that Kevin McCarthy couldn’t secure victory solely through the votes of his fellow Republicans, as is customary in the House. Thus, he turned to Democrats, imploring them to extinguish the flames of an internal GOP revolt, which, ironically, he had played a part in igniting. The outcome was not even a close call.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a prominent liberal voice, summed it up succinctly, declaring, “Kevin McCarthy is untrustworthy. After a contentious morning caucus, nobody believes in Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy’s tenure as House speaker came to an end, and the question lingered: How did this transpire, and what lies ahead?
With this, the perpetually cheerful Republican found himself expelled from the speaker’s position, exactly nine months after suffering defeat in 14 out of 15 initial ballots aimed at securing the gavel.
Democrats, despite the numerous concessions Kevin McCarthy had made to appease his right-wing counterparts, couldn’t fathom being asked to save Kevin McCarthy’s political career by some Republicans.
In voices filled with indignation, they no longer saw him as the amiable young Republican who had befriended them a decade ago in the House gym and had organized bipartisan group bike rides. Instead, they perceived a transformation in him, occurring rather swiftly over the past three years, into a self-serving, unprincipled leader motivated solely by the hunger for power.
While some Democrats expressed sympathy for his efforts to pacify an intransigent faction of far-right radicals, they contended that he must bear the consequences for making numerous pledges and then reneging on them.
They recalled how, immediately after the January 6, 2021, insurrection, McCarthy had pointed fingers at President Donald Trump and advocated for an independent commission to investigate, only to later reverse his stance, throw his support behind Trump post-presidency, and oppose a thorough investigation.
“He has brought turmoil to the House, and he suggests that keeping him in that position is the solution?
That’s an argument that simply doesn’t resonate,” asserted Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and co-author of a Pentagon policy bill that secured the panel’s approval by a decisive 58-1 vote.
In a letter to Democrats minutes before the pivotal Tuesday vote, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) cited McCarthy’s duplicity, highlighting how he had caved in to a handful of far-right Republicans and loaded the legislation with culture-war policy amendments, thereby securing a narrow partisan vote.
Jeffries, who had maintained a cordial public rapport with Kevin McCarthy, left no room for doubt: his party would unanimously support ousting McCarthy, equating him with the most extreme elements of the GOP.
“House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair given their unwillingness to depart from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner,”
Jeffries conveyed to Democratic lawmakers just minutes before the voting commenced, referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
So, when the House initiated its voting series after 1:30 p.m., the major concern was whether Democrats had too many absentees, due to health and family reasons, potentially giving McCarthy a narrow escape.
That question was put to rest when 11 Republicans aligned with 207 Democrats to defeat a procedural motion aimed at thwarting the effort, spearheaded by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a long-standing irritant to the speaker who had dedicated weeks to prepare for this crucial vote.
In fact, after officially presenting the motion on Monday, Gaetz confided to reporters on the Capitol steps that he anticipated some Democrats might throw McCarthy a political lifeline.
“That’s the likely outcome,” he predicted, hinting at further motions to unseat the speaker. “This won’t be the only time.”
Instead, Gaetz presided over an hour of debate before the final vote, relocating to the Democratic side of the aisle, an unusual move for someone typically at odds with leading liberals who hold him in disdain.
On the final tally, 208 Democrats and eight Republicans cast their votes against McCarthy, while 210 GOP legislators supported him.
McCarthy’s allies had hoped that senior Democrats, particularly Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who had spent 20 years in leadership and had traveled alongside McCarthy, would find a way to offer him sufficient support.
Initially elected in 2006, McCarthy spent his initial 12 years in office earning favor on both sides of the aisle, often exercising in the House gym among a bipartisan crowd.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a close confidant of Kevin McCarthy’s who was presently serving as acting speaker, pointed out that McCarthy had endeavored to treat Jeffries more fairly than then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had treated him during the previous four years. He cautioned that expelling a speaker midway through the term would constitute a significant “inflection” point.
Why Democrats might be hesitant to rescue McCarthy
McCarthy did engage in a call with Jeffries on Monday evening, but the content of their discussion remained a mystery. On Tuesday morning, McCarthy informed reporters that he had no intention of making concessions to secure their votesIf Democrats were to rescue him, it would be purely due to the rapport they had shared with him or for the sake of avoiding further turmoil within the House, which was already engulfed in chaos.
Instead, Democrats asserted that the McCarthy they once knew, from his days about a decade ago when he held a junior GOP leadership position, had become unrecognizable when compared to the man who had capitulated to numerous hard-right demands.
“I don’t draw a sharp distinction between Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz,” asserted Rep. Jaime B. Raskin (D-Md.) on Monday.
Raskin, a manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial, pointed out that McCarthy had been the first high-ranking leader to call for an independent commission to investigate the aftermath of the Capitol attack.
Yet, within weeks of that incident, McCarthy paid a visit to Trump, reconciled with him, and subsequently opposed the establishment of a commission and the eventual formation of the House Jan. 6 committee.
When he secured the speakership in early January, McCarthy did so by agreeing to weaken the motion that Gaetz would later employ against him, making it far simpler for a small faction to sow chaos.
The Republican Conference, according to Rep., “has done everything in their power to bring us to this point of chaos and to render the House of Representatives unstable.” Mark Takano (R-Calif.) on Tuesday.
In May, McCarthy negotiated a debt-and-budget deal with President Biden, outlining a framework for federal agency funding over the next two years while allowing the Treasury Department to continue borrowing. However, he later backtracked on the deal when faced with pressure from hard-right Republicans who claimed he had made commitments to reduce spending.
Confronted with conflicting promises, McCarthy sided with GOP legislators, directing the House Appropriations Committee to slash over $100 billion from the budget. In September, after publicly pledging to hold a vote on commencing impeachment proceedings against Biden, he unilaterally announced that an “impeachment inquiry” was underway, despite skepticism from his own rank-and-file regarding the allegations against the president.
“Kevin McCarthy hasn’t demonstrated the trustworthiness expected of a speaker,” Takano remarked.
Of course, the Republicans who voted to remove him on Tuesday shared a similar grievance: a lack of trust.
Repeatedly, they cited instances where McCarthy had made commitments to support specific legislation or initiatives, only for them to discover that he had also made conflicting commitments to other groups of Republicans.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who holds moderate views on abortion rights, recounted her experiences of making deals with McCarthy, particularly regarding bills aimed at expanding access to birth control and rape kits. She expressed disappointment as these commitments went unfulfilled due to opposition from anti-abortion factions within the caucus.
“I’ve made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not upheld to assist women in this country,” she declared following the vote.
McCarthy’s actions in the past week served as a microcosm of his tenure as speaker, leaving a trail of individuals feeling betrayed by his decisions.
After shifting towards a more conservative stance on government funding bills, he reached the Saturday deadline, presenting the choice between a government shutdown or passing legislation with Democrats.
For weeks, he had assured conservatives that he wouldn’t collaborate with Democrats on legislation. However, he ultimately made a last-minute pivot, infuriating conservatives in the process.
McCarthy also engaged in public disputes with Biden over whether he had privately pledged support for legislation to fund military aid for Ukraine, leaving everyone involved in the debate confused about his stance.
During a Sunday show appearance, shared with rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday, the former speaker attributed the near government shutdown to the Democrats.
“We are not saving Kevin McCarthy,” Jayapal concluded afterward.