US House brawl over McCarthy raises worries about Republican governance

D.C., Jan. 6 (Reuters) – The political brawl among Republicans over Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives may be a portent of things to come when it comes to reaching consensus on more important matters, including raising the debt ceiling.

In the November midterm elections, Republicans narrowly won a majority in the House, ending President Joe Biden’s Democrats’ control of both houses of Congress. However, a group of approximately 20 hardliners has blocked the House from starting by repeatedly forcing leadership votes rather than acting swiftly on their own objectives.

McCarthy wants to regain the speakership of the House in the end by making concessions to his staunch opponents, but his allies fear that if he succeeds and must control of his slim 222-212 majority, those agreements would make his job even harder.

Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican who supports McCarthy, raged, “They’ve demonstrated that we can’t govern, and now they’ll help Biden score wins before his reelection.”

The federal debt ceiling, which the U.S. Treasury is anticipated to hit later this year, will present the House with its greatest challenge in the upcoming months.

As a result of impasses over extending the debt ceiling, which is necessary to pay for expenses that lawmakers previously promised to bear, Congress has been on the verge of default during the past few years.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in 2011 as a result of a standoff, which devastated the financial markets. Only when Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to a rule change allowing it, Congress was able to raise the debt ceiling in December 2021.

Many House Republicans were outraged by that, including several who are now leading the charge against McCarthy and clamoring for more power over the chamber’s agenda.

At the time, Republican Rep. Andy Biggs referred to McConnell’s deal as “offensive and dangerous.”

This year’s standoff might shake the world economy at a time when recession worries are already pervasive.

McCarthy and a number of other extreme Republicans have also pledged to punish Senate Republicans who worked to pass a package in December 2022 that prevented a government shutdown by funding it through September.

Representative Ralph Norman, another opponent, said he would not support McCarthy because he would not promise to force a shutdown of the government, adding, “It’s a trust issue.”

The hardliners argue that such a move might compel significant spending cuts, such as modifications to the Social Security and Medicare programs, which they argue are necessary to handle the nation’s mounting debt.


McCarthy has reportedly agreed to a number of concessions, one of which would enable any single House member to suggest the speaker’s resignation at any moment via a mechanism known as the “move to leave the chair.”

In 1910 and in 2015, when the previous Republican Speaker John Boehner resigned after a hardline conservative filed a request to have him removed, lawmakers attempted to remove House speakers by using the rule.

Only a majority of either party could accept such a move under Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Now, McCarthy’s opponents want to change the rule back to how it was prior to Pelosi’s leadership.

Democratic Representative Richard Neal stated, “The issue for him is that with every concession, he has to wake up every day wondering if he’s still going to have his job.”

Both Boehner and Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican who now serves as a speaker, resigned from their positions following disagreements with conservative hardliners whose influence has subsequently risen.

A former aide to Ryan who decided not to run for reelection in 2018 as the caucus took a harder right stance during Donald Trump’s presidency said, “Individual members can now feel emboldened to call a motion to vacate, cause a stink, or gum up the works of Congress if they aren’t getting what they want.”

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