Voices: Kevin McCarthy has catered to conservatives and owned the libs. Now comes the hard part
On Thursday, Kevin McCarthy fulfilled his final commitment to conservatives when he held the full House vote to remove Representative Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
That honored a commitment he made after Democrats – and 11 Republicans – voted to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committees. Mr McCarthy has decided to make her his most indefatigable co-sponsor, with The New York Times reporting last month that he said “I’ll never abandon that woman.”
But now comes the hard part: This week, he had his first meeting with President Joe Biden about the debt limit. But he’s made so many concessions to conservatives that he has made his negotiating position virtually impossible.
His decision to remove Ms Omar – as well as Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee – is also a fulfillment of his pledge to Republicans after Democrats voted to censure Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and remove him from his committees.
That punishment came after he posted a video of a character with his own head killing a character with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s head on it. Notably, Mr Gosar voted against making Mr McCarthy the speaker for the first 12 rounds and Mr Gosar only flipped after Mr McCarthy made numerous concessions to conservatives.
Among those concessions were allowing three conservatives – including Representatives Chip Roy and Ralph Norman, who initially opposed his speakership- – to sit on the powerful House Rules Committee, which governs which legislation can go to the floor. He also lowered the threshold for a motion to vacate the chair, meaning any single member can file a motion to depose Mr McCarthy.
As The Times reported, Mr McCarthy saw House conservatives depose both John Boehner and Paul Ryan and made a conscious decision to align himself with the far-right flank of the caucus. He’s done this through aligning himself with figures like Jim Jordan, who previously antagonised Republican leadership, and Mr Roy who, as Senator Ted Cruz’s chief of staff, helped orchestrate the government shutdown in 2013.
But debt limit negotiations were precisely the types of negotiations that became Mr Ryan and Mr Boehner’s undoing. And all that good will he has stored up with conservatives could completely evaporate if they do not think his negotiations extracted enough cuts from the Biden administration.
Tellingly, every Democrat, even the ones who vehemently disagreed with Ms Omar’s comments about Israel and who thought they were antisemitic, stood behind her and voted against the House resolution. That might serve as a precursor that he likely won’t be able to pick off even the most conservative Democrats if he makes steep spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit increase.
On top of that, he’s given them the tools to block a resolution to raise the debt limit by putting conservatives on Rules and has given them a loaded gun with the motion to vacate the chair.