Kevin McCarthy is walking a 'tightrope' in his quest to be House Speaker

Kevin McCarthy is walking a 'tightrope' in his quest to be House Speaker
Image via Wikimedia Commons

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) really wants to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. But his bid to obtain the gavel means that he has to bridge the divide between the Republican Party’s moderates and its members who still stand behind former President Donald Trump. And that is no easy feat.

“McCarthy will need the support of the whole party, including the big donors who fund it, a dwindling number of center-right traditionalists and a larger group of quiet conservatives,” The New York Times reported on Thursday. “But he will also need the smaller but more powerful faction of extremist members who are aligned with Mr. Trump and want to define their party in his image.”

To reach his end, McCarthy, the paper continued, “has been engaging in a series of political contortions to try to secure a foothold in a party that has shifted under his feet, catering to a group that may ultimately be his undoing. In doing so, he has both empowered the hard-right fringe and tethered his fate to it, helping to solidify its dominance in today’s Republican Party.”

Last week, for example, McCarthy endorsed Harriet Hageman, who is running a primary campaign to unseat Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

McCarthy’s delicate dance became more evident when he managed to convince Trump to stay out of California Representative David Valadao’s reelection bid. Valadao “represents the most heavily Democratic district held by any Republican in Congress,” the Times noted, adding that Trump “endorsing a more conservative candidate could cost the party the seat.”

When it comes to Trump, however, McCarthy has twisted himself into a pretzel. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, McCarthy blamed Trump for the attack and backed calls for him to be censured. McCarthy even “called for an independent investigation of what had happened” on January 6th, the Times pointed out, although he shortly thereafter changed his mind following a trip to Mar-a-Lago.

The Times explained that while McCarthy has been “advising” Trump on another potential presidential run in 2024, he avoids talking about Trump with donors throwing their money into competitive House races.

McCarthy “has told donors that Mr. Trump has not yet made up his mind and that he has advised the former president to see whether President Biden runs for re-election,” wrote the Times. “McCarthy also often mentions former House members who he says could make for serious presidential contenders, including Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.”

Ideological scizms aside, however, two large challenges loom over McCarthy’s quest for the number three spot in the presidential line of succession.

The first, the Times explained, is basic arithmetic.

“Leadership positions in the House can be secured with a majority vote from the members of each party. But the speaker is a constitutional official elected by the whole House and therefore must win a majority — at least 218 votes,” the Times wrote.

The second, according to the Times, is nailing down what McCarthy’s political values are:

This month, under pressure from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he and his leadership team recommended that Republicans vote against a bill abolishing mandatory arbitration in sexual abuse cases, circulating emails noting that [Representative Jim] Jordan [R-Ohio], the ranking member of the committee that considered it, was opposed.

But when it came to a vote, Mr. McCarthy hung back on the House floor, waiting to register a position until he saw that the bill was passing with overwhelming bipartisan support. At that point, he voted ‘yes,’ leaving some Republicans surprised that he had broken with his own party line.

Still, some mainstream lawmakers inside the GOP caucus think that McCarthy has what it takes to lead a congressional majority.

“Leader McCarthy is very astute, sharp and savvy,” Representative Peter Meijer (R-Michigan), who voted to impeach Trump, said. “He has been able to not focus on the differences but find where we can come together on policy choices.”

Congressman Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) – Trump's ex-White House physician – believes that McCarthy has "earned an opportunity to lead the conference.”


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