It’s possible that picking the House speaker was the easy part. The Republican majority in the House will now attempt to govern.
Late on Monday, the Republicans approved their rules package for governing House operations, a routine step on Day One that stretched into the second week of the new majority. Speaker Kevin McCarthy thus passed his first tests. It passed with a party-line vote of 220 to 213, with only one Republican voting no.
In the next step, the House Republicans easily passed their first bill, which would have reduced funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The budget office’s announcement that the Republicans’ IRS bill would increase the deficit by $114 billion rather than reduce it delayed votes on the measure.
The measure sailed through the House on a party-line vote of 218-210, despite having almost no chance of making it through the Senate, which is currently controlled by the Democrats.
It was a good beginning to what might have been a period of crisis administration. After last week’s chaotic speaker’s race, which highlighted the difficulties McCarthy faces with a defiant majority and the constraints President Joe Biden faces on Capitol Hill, Republicans are expected to be lurching from one standoff to the next.
The Republicans are charging headfirst into the new session with lofty goals for a far-right conservative agenda and a slim majority that allows even a handful of holdouts to halt proceedings. They advocate for an investigation into Biden, a reduction in federal spending, and increased competition with China.
McCarthy has Trump’s support, but first he must prove that the Republican majority can handle basic governing functions.
McCarthy said, “You know, it’s a little more difficult when you go into a majority and maybe the margins aren’t high,” after being elected speaker. “This setback served to strengthen our bonds and teach us how to work together,” the speaker said.
McCarthy, however, made the announcement of the final vote tally on the IRS bill himself on Monday night, to cheers from his own side of the aisle. There were assurances given. Guaranteed delivery,” he declared in his official statement.
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McCarthy’s First Day As Speaker
On McCarthy’s first day as speaker, he opened the House with a gavel and Republicans immediately began debating the Rules package, a contentious 55-page document that he negotiated with conservative holdouts to secure their support.
The conservative Freedom Caucus pushed for a key provision in the package, which allows any one lawmaker to make a motion to “vacate the chair” and call for a vote to remove the speaker of the house. When the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi abolished the practise that conservatives had used to intimidate previous Republican speakers.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) described the rules as “getting back to the basics.”
That, however, is not the only alteration. Other provisions that the conservatives extracted from McCarthy reduce the power of the speaker’s office and give more power over legislative business to regular legislators, especially the far right legislators who negotiated for these changes.
The Republican Party is expanding the membership of the Rules committee, which controls the content of legislative debates, to include more members of the Freedom Caucus. Members making this demand are promising more freewheeling debates and want at least 72 hours to read bills before votes.
As we saw last week when McCarthy fought for the speaker’s gavel for four days and 14 failed ballots, the outcome of the currently approved changes to the House’s rules and procedures is uncertain.
It was one of the longest speaker’s race showdowns in U.S. history, and many Republicans defended the standoff over the speaker’s gavel, which was resolved in the wee hours of Saturday morning on the narrowest of votes.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said over the weekend on CNN that “a little temporary conflict is necessary in this town in order to stop this town from rolling over the American people.”
As has been the case for the vast majority of the House’s existence, Roy praised the new rules he helped craft on Monday, saying he could file a motion “right now” to demand a vote on the speaker.
However, at least two other Republicans voiced concerns about the secret deals McCarthy had struck, making it unclear whether the rules package would pass the House with a simple majority of Republicans on Monday night. Finally, only Texas Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales voted no.
Democrats criticised the new regulations as giving in to the demands of the far right in line with Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, stated, “These rules are not a serious attempt at governing.” He characterised it as a “ransom note from far right.”
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) criticised the GOP’s so-called Holman Rule, which would allow Congress to rescind the pay of individual federal employees, saying, “This is no way to govern.”
McCarthy has a razor-thin 222-seat Republican majority; if all Democrats vote against his legislation, he can afford to lose support from just four of his own party members.
McCarthy’s already challenging position is further complicated by the new regulations. For instance, Republicans are getting rid of the proxy voting that Democrats instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Consequently, McCarthy needs to push for increased attendance and participation at every vote, with only the most extreme cases of emergency excused absences.
Members of Congress have to show up and start working again,” said Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)
The Democrats’ tenuous hold on the Senate suggests that compromise is still possible in this Congress. On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties visited the southern U.S. border with Mexico in an effort to better understand the situation there and formulate legislation to better manage immigration.
When Congress is divided, however, nothing gets done.
Just over a decade ago, the tea party class swept to the majority in the House of Representatives, ousting Nancy Pelosi as speaker and ushering in an era of hardball politics that led to a government shutdown and the threat of a default on the United States’ national debt.
McCarthy played a significant role in those conflicts because he was the House GOP’s campaign chairman at the time that he recruited the tea party class. In 2015, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner retired suddenly to avoid an impeachment vote by conservatives, he attempted to succeed Boehner but was unsuccessful.