(WASHINGTON) — To secure the House speakership, California Republican Kevin McCarthy cut a sweeping deal with some of the most conservative members of his conference that included concessions he had not only vowed would be a red line but that will now significantly impact the power of the job he fought for years to secure.
While some Republicans, like Texas Rep. Chip Roy, touted “more transparency” and “more openness” from the negotiating, others in the party bristled at what they called the secretive nature of the agreement.
“What backroom deals were cut [or] did they try to cut?” Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina said on CBS on Sunday.
Despite those tensions, and last week’s prolonged speakership election, the House on Monday night passed the Republican majority’s rules to govern the chamber for the next two years.
The total was 220-213, with Texas Rep. Tony Gonzalez as the lone Republican to vote against the bill, alongside Democrats.
The 55-page proposal outlines some of McCarthy’s concessions, which effectively distribute some of the speaker’s power to rank-and-file members — a core goal that the “Never Kevin” group aimed to achieve.
“I look forward to working closely with [McCarthy]. But he did agree, to his great credit, to democratize power to the membership,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told Fox News on Sunday.
However, the full extent of McCarthy’s arrangement with the right-wing group of holdouts is still yet to be known. Republican leaders insist the rules package was only altered in negotiations on one key point, related to the “motion to vacate” the sitting speaker.
McCarthy also made more hand-shake agreements, including allocating several spots on the influential Rules Committee for House Freedom Caucus members, sources tell ABC News.
On Monday came another sign that conservative members will have significant influence in the new Congress as Rep. Mark Green, a member of the Freedom Caucus, was selected to chair the Homeland Security Committee. Green has vowed to have a permanent staff member at the southern border to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
‘Incredibly shrinking speakership’?
Critics say McCarthy takes the gavel as perhaps the weakest speaker in recent history, with parts of the deal with other Republicans cutting at the very influence his position typically wields.
“What we’re seeing is the incredibly shrinking speakership, and that’s most unfortunate for Congress,” Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.
The changes inside the new House rules package include, perhaps most notably, a return to allowing a single member the ability to force a “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair, which would essentially oust McCarthy if it is approved by the chamber.
Republicans who support the new threshold say it increases accountability for leaders and rejects a precedent set by Pelosi, who had raised the minimum for a motion to a majority of either party.
But with a five-seat Republican majority, McCarthy’s speakership could be on the line at any moment — risking a revolving speakership — if he were to anger one of the party’s factions, including some of the 20 rebels he had to persuade last week.
“I’m not convinced we can go the entire Congress without having it,” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming House Oversight Committee chair and a McCarthy backer, said over the weekend of a motion to vacate.
“I’m not going to say there won’t be one person who tries to abuse that motion,” Comer said, “but I’m confident that McCarthy’s going to be able to be given the green light to govern and to lead this conference.”
More changes, including call for defense cuts
If approved, the new House rules would also give lawmakers 72 hours to review bills before they come to the floor, allow any member to offer amendments to spending bills on the floor and ensure votes on congressional term limits and border security.
McCarthy also agreed to propose a judiciary subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government,” which could include ongoing criminal investigations.
On top of managing the far-right end of his conference, McCarthy also has to balance not frustrating the more moderate members, some of whom have expressed concerns about an aspect of the deal between McCarthy and his critics related to a cap on discretionary spending.
The proposed limit would set that funding for fiscal year 2024 across the federal government at 2022 levels, which could impact national security spending.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., who played a central role in securing the speakership for McCarthy, suggested on Friday that if he was not comfortable with the deal on the floor, he could vote against it.
“We all still have our vote card, we still have a four-vote margin, so the will of the House will always prevail,” Fitzpatrick said when asked if he would support a rules package that could impact defense spending.
Rep. Gonzales had said Sunday that he would vote against the rules package, specifically citing money for the military.
“This has a proposed billions-of-dollar cut to defense, which I think is a horrible idea,” Gonzales said on CBS.
“When you have aggressive Russia and Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific, you know, I’m going to visit Taiwan here in a couple of weeks, how am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, ‘I need you to increase your defense budget,’ but yet America is going to decrease ours?” he added.
Rep. Mace, another critic of process, said Sunday that “I like the rules package. It is the most open, fair and fiscally conservative package we’ve had in 30 years. I support it, but what I don’t support is a small number of people trying to get a deal done or deals done for themselves in private, in secret, to get a vote or vote present. I don’t support that.”
Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., told reporters on Monday, ahead of the rules vote, that it wasn’t “controversial” and he expected it would pass.
“There’s only one change in the rules package and that relates to the motion to vacate,” he said.
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