Kevin McCarthy may have become Speaker of the House — Has he paid an enormous price?

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BY T.N. ASHOK

Washington–  Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy may have become the Speaker of the House of Representatives, creating history to win it in an unprecedented 15th round of balloting, but he paid an enormous price by conceding to all the concessions of the 21 rebels from the deep South who blocked his election.

As early as 2015, McCarthy has been lobbying for this prestigious post, where the Speaker conducts the proceedings of the House, but is also the third in line for the US Presidency. He lost the Speakership in 2015 when he accidentally spilled the beans about the political aim of the GOP’s Benghazi committee that investigated the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the emails controversy, the backlash from his own allies forced him to withdraw.

But three years later Paul Ryan offered to give up the Speaker’s gavel, McCarthy was again well positioned to sit in the powerful seat, but voters got in his hair, as Donald Trump’s presidency triggered a backlash and the GOP suffered a net loss of 40 seats in the chamber, denying McCarthy his Speakership.

It wasn’t easy for the veteran Congressman to get his act back in 2022 to bid for the Speaker as Republicans won the House by a wafer-thin majority of 11 seats and it took McCarthy more ballots than any political race ever witnessed in 164 years since the American Civil War, US media reports said analysing his struggle to victory.

Fourteen times McCarthy failed in the ballot blocked by the rebels until by the 15th round he conceded all their demands to become the Speaker in utter desperation which poll strategists and political observers say has considerably weakened his position as he has compromised his power for his ambition. The concession that he conceded that any one representative can bring a motion for his removal hangs like the damocles sword over his head.

McCarthy finally carved out a path to placate a faction of rebels, 15 of the 21, to secure the top job early Saturday, with promises that could come back to haunt him, Steve Benen, a columnist for MSNBC, said in his analysis.

McCarthy flipped 14 of his holdouts and convinced the rest to stand down, securing election as the 53rd Speaker of the House on the 15th ballot after overcoming a last-minute wrench that scuttled his best-laid plans on the previous ballot, Benen observed emphasising that his concessions to accommodate the rebels in the Ways and Means Committee that oversees the financial package for the country, healthcare and the Appropriations Committee that monitors the Treasury’s funds flows has left him powerless.

The new Speaker never managed to get 218 votes — the threshold for a majority in the chamber — but he prevailed when his six remaining intra-party opponents voted “present”. The Democrats, all 213 stood united to vote for their Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and even if 33 of them had abstained from voting, McCarthy would have become Speaker with 201 votes. But they did not, as they were gloating over the 14 failures of a man who promised to bring an impeachment motion against President Joe Biden and launch investigations into his son Hunter Biden’s trade links with China.

The path ahead for McCarthy is complex and absolutely unpredictable, say media commentators. But as the dust settles and the 118th Congress prepares for its overdue beginning; one key question hangs overhead: Did McCarthy pay too high a price for the gavel?

NBC News’ report claimed he “made a series of concessions that weaken the power of his office and expand the clout of far-right members of the House Republican conference, which critics say could complicate his job of governing under a wafer-thin majority”.

McCarthy fell short of the votes he needed to become the Speaker in his third desperate bid since 2015, as even his allies struggled to get him to the goalpost. It’s sad that McCarthy, perceived as a moderate conservative, did not reverse his fortunes through powerful displays of leadership or through his powers of persuasion. Neither.

By caving into the demands of the 21 rebels in pursuit of his blind ambition, McCarthy made a desperate deal with the Caucus against him giving up more than he ever thought he would concede.

Asked why he ultimately allowed McCarthy to become the Speaker, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida conceded, “I ran out of things I could even imagine asking for.”

McCarthy prevailed, in other words, because his opponents took “yes” for an answer.

Just look at what all McCarthy has conceded.

Motion to vacate the chair: House members can oust their own sitting Speaker — or at least try to — by way of a single vote serving as a no-confidence vote. McCarthy said for weeks he would not concede this but caved in even as he knew the sword would hang over his head for the next two years, putting him in constant jeopardy, media reports said.

McCarthy has now to constantly look over his shoulder and not to irk any member for fear of this motion that can remove him from the post. If that member finds a handful of allies, it wouldn’t be too difficult to actually succeed in forcing the new Speaker from his post.

Rules Committee: It’s wrong to assume that after a bill clears the relevant committee, it heads to the floor for a vote. That isn’t right. It has to first go to the Rules Committee, which sets the terms of the floor debate.

McCarthy’s far-right opponents have reportedly secured three slots on this panel, which matters a great deal: With those Rules Committee seats, far-right Republicans could join with the panel’s Democrats in killing practically any piece of legislation before it has a chance to reach the floor, Benen commented in analysis for NBC.

Debt ceiling: McCarthy has reportedly conceded to a virtual hostage crisis that could force the country into a possible default, while scrapping the so-called Gephardt rule, which allows the Congress to suspend, rather than lift, the debt limit.

Holman Rule: Compromising on this, McCarthy has allowed “amendments to appropriations legislation that would reduce the salary of or fire specific federal employees, or cut a specific programme”.

Undisclosed details: House Republicans themselves don’t have a clue on what all McCarthy has conceded to become the Speaker, but some media reports referenced “a secret three-page addendum” to a rules package that still needs to be approved.

Yes, McCarthy’s ambitions have been fulfilled, and he’ll get to sit in a very nice office with a beautiful view. But he’s also reached an opaque agreement in which his most radical flank will have undue influence over the House’s direction, leaving him in a weaker position than any modern Speaker, Benen said. (IANS)

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