McCarthy Only Has Himself To Blame For Losing Speakership
After decades of empowering and enabling extremists within their ranks for political gain, the Republican Party is reaping what they've sown.
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Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is no longer Speaker of the House, and he only has himself to blame. This is what happens when you capitulate to extremists.
When seeking the speakership, McCarthy made a series of desperate concessions to the far-right House Freedom Caucus. One of those concessions would prove to be his downfall. He agreed to a change in House rules enabling a single member to present a motion to vacate and trigger a vote to oust him. Now, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is exploiting McCarthy’s weakness.
After McCarthy opted not to shut down the government, he triggered a far-right revolt within his caucus. Matt Gaetz filed the motion to vacate the Speakership on Monday night and passed it this afternoon with seven of his Republican colleagues and every Democrat - who opted to let Republicans decide amongst themselves. The vote was 216 - 210. The eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy are:
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN)
Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Rep. Bob Good (R-VA)
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC)
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT)
The vote came after an hour of McCarthy and Gaetz's allies arguing back and forth on the House floor. The optics were remarkable as Gaetz, Rep. Biggs, and Rep. Good stood on the Democratic side of the aisle, yelling across the chamber at their Republican colleagues. Meanwhile, Democrats sat back silently as they watched Republicans self-sabotage.
This is the first time a Speaker of the House has ever been removed and the first motion to vacate vote since Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-IL) faced a failed attempt to oust him in 1910. For now, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is the House Speaker Pro Tempore while the House gears up to vote for another Speaker. The House went into recess right after the vote.
McCarthy needed either Gaetz and his allies to back off or for Democrats to vote against the motion for him to keep the Speakership. NBC News journalist Ali Vitali reported that McCarthy's allies were calling moderate Democrats essentially “begging” for them to step in and save McCarthy’s speakership. Those pleas were denied. Democrats saw no incentive to save McCarthy.
For months, McCarthy has empowered the worst impulses of House Republicans. He unilaterally opened a baseless impeachment inquiry into President Biden after promising he wouldn’t do it without a full House vote. He back-tracked on his spending deal with President Biden and risked a government shutdown.
Just this past weekend, McCarthy tried to blame Democrats for bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown in spite of the fact more Democrats voted for the continuing resolution than Republicans. Saying this about a party that you need to help save you days later wasn’t a smart strategy.
Democrats also haven’t forgiven McCarthy for how he handled January 6, as Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told reporters ahead of the vote. In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, McCarthy blamed Trump for the attack. But within weeks, he was back at Mar-a-Lago, cozying up to Donald Trump. This began Trump’s rehabilitation after his disgraceful effort to overturn the 2020 election.
Amid this motion to vacate, House Republicans expressed their fury with Matt Gaetz to CNN’s Manu Raju. Rep. Van Orden (R-WI) said of Gaetz, "The only word I can describe for that is he’s either a fool or a liar.” Rep. Erin Houchin (R-IN) said, "I think Matt Gaetz is a chaos agent." Their anger should be directed inward because Gaetz is a microcosm of the extremism their party has emboldened.
This challenge to McCarthy’s speakership is the culmination of the Republican Party’s decades of appeasing extremists. Establishment Republicans have long enabled and empowered radicals, from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump to Matt Gaetz, for political gain, thinking they could control them. Now, they’re the ones being controlled.
The far-right “Tea Party” movement was emboldened amid Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency. We saw the House Freedom Caucus arise as a result of that movement. In 2015, Mark Meadows, then a Republican representative from North Carolina and member of the House Freedom Caucus, threatened then-Speaker of the House John Boehner with a motion to vacate. Boehner resigned and instead handed the gavel to Paul Ryan.
Over the course of the 2016 election, the Republican Party increasingly embraced Donald Trump once he won the nomination. All that mattered to them was what their base wanted - the same base that they helped radicalize over the years. What’s happened since then speaks for itself.
This coalition-building with radicals resulted in an increasingly powerful extremist wing of the Republican Party that has cultivated government dysfunction. This attention-hungry, chaos-seeking faction grew to rule the broader party as a whole. Now, we all have to deal with the consequences.
Ahead of the vote, Hakeem Jeffries briefly spoke to the press, keeping the focus on the bigger picture: “We encourage our Republican colleagues, who claim to be more traditional, to break from the extremists, end the chaos, end the dysfunction, end the extremism…” He’s right. But unfortunately, this vote won’t do anything to bring an end to GOP extremism.
Without a clear alternative candidate to replace McCarthy, it’s unclear how these votes will go. McCarthy has reportedly told Republicans he will not be running for Speaker again. We’ll see what happens.
Either way, we’ll continue to see chaos in the House - chaos that is unmistakably the fault of the Republican Party.
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