I watched C-Span today as the House of Representatives voted twice on the issue of whether Kevin McCarthy should retain his job as speaker. The House is currently split 221-212 (with two seats vacant) so if everyone is present, a majority will consist of 217 votes. Since Republicans have just 221 votes, McCarthy could not prevail if more than four Republicans defected, unless Democrats voted in favor or simply voted ‘present’.
The process was triggered by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz filing a motion to vacate. The first vote was on a resolution by McCarthy supporters to table Gaetz’s motion. If it passed, that meant that McCarthy’s job was saved. It lost by a vote of 218-208, with 11 Republicans joining with Democrats to defeat it. The next vote was on Gaetz’s motion to vacate and that carried by 216-210. The Democrats presented a solid front and, apart from some absences, they all voted against McCarthy on both issues. There had been some reports that McCarthy allies had been begging some Democrats to vote their way but clearly that effort failed.
Three of the Republicans who voted with Gaetz on the effort to table the motion, switched their votes on the second vote and voted to keep McCarthy as speaker. Their reasons were not clear, other than perhaps they just wanted a clean vote on the issue rather than a procedural maneuver.
McCarthy has only himself to blame for his short tenure as speaker and ignominious exit. Where Democrats and his Republican critics were agreed was that he was feckless, unprincipled, and untrustworthy. Given that record, none of his critics were confident that he would uphold any deal that he might offer in order to keep his job. The list of Democratic criticisms of McCarthy that infuriated them was long.
*McCarthy didn’t vote to certify the election on Jan. 6, 2021. The attack on the U.S. Capitol is still raw on Capitol Hill, and Democrats will never forgive McCarthy for voting against certification after the mob was cleared from the building.
*McCarthy said former president Donald Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 riot — and then, a few weeks later, traveled to Mar-a-Lago and took an infamous picture with Trump with their thumbs up. Democrats are still furious about the incident, which helped revive Trump politically and whitewash the severity of his role on Jan. 6.
*McCarthy worked against the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee, which Democrats viewed as an attempt to protect Trump.
*McCarthy gave the Jan. 6 security footage to since-fired television host Tucker Carlson without releasing it to news outlets.
*McCarthy delivered votes for the Cares Act — a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in 2020 and signed by Trump — and later became highly critical of pandemic relief legislation.
*He worked with Democrats to help put together the microchips manufacturing bill last year and then whipped his party to vote against it.
*McCarthy backed out of a spending agreement he made with President Biden as part of a deal to lift the debt limit less than two weeks after Biden signed the law in an attempt to placate the furious conservatives in his conference. Democrats on the House floor on Saturday chanted, “Keep your word!”
*McCarthy said in August that he would hold a vote on the House floor to open an impeachment inquiry against Biden. In September, on the first day back from summer recess, McCarthy opened an impeachment inquiry and did not hold such a vote.
*On Saturday morning, McCarthy didn’t give lawmakers 72 hours to read the short-term spending bill to keep the government open despite House rules. Republicans argued that it was an amendment and not a full bill so the 72-hour rule didn’t apply. But Democrats were given just minutes to read it and vote on it despite asking Republican leadership for more time. (Democrats deployed stalling tactics to get about two hours to read and discuss the bill.)
*On Sunday, McCarthy went on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and charged Democrats with wanting a shutdown. That infuriated Democrats, who voted nearly unanimously for the government spending bill when fewer than half of Republicans did.
Is it any wonder that none of them came to his aid? McCarthy is a prime example that even in the cutthroat world of politics, your credibility is important if you want to get things done. He seemed to be willing to do anything for short term gain, even if it meant abandoning commitments and erstwhile allies. He also just did not seem to be a very smart strategist, with his first major error being his willingness to give away everything to the extremists in his party in order to get their support to become speaker. That showed that he was weak and pliable and could be pushed around, never a good look for a political leader.
While people tend to despise McCarthy, it seems like pretty much everyone in Congress hates Matt Gaetz with a passion. But since he has now vaulted into the position of being the person who dethroned their leader, Republicans will have to decide what to to do about him in the ensuing leadership battle. They may need him and his small coterie of allies to get someone elected as speaker but the new candidate may be wary of doing what McCarthy did, and giving them too much power in order to get their votes.