House Moves on to Rules Package After Weeklong Speaker Drama
The House is in session this week. The Senate is in recess.
The House of Representatives has a Speaker. On the 15th ballot, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally prevailed, receiving 216 votes to Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) 212 with 5 Republicans voting present. The early Saturday morning vote ended a dramatic and tumultuous start to the 118th Congress.
To get there, Speaker McCarthy had to reach an agreement with a group of about twenty conservative holdouts. The agreements/concessions amount to a contract about how Republican leadership will attempt to govern the House over the next 2 years. More than a dozen years of ongoing internal disputes about the approach to governing and legislating played out in a very public and messy week. This is not how the new majority planned their first week, but also in many ways, the fight was coming and unavoidable.
The House Freedom Caucus was created nearly ten years ago because a group of conservative Members believed their leadership was too accommodating to Democrats and the “status quo.” And they believed Leadership used the rules of the House to block conservatives from participating in the legislative process in a meaningful way. If a minority of the majority could block the majority from passing bills, they could leverage their votes to force change in how the Leadership operates. During the Trump presidency, the Freedom Caucus evolved into more of a caucus of staunch Trump defenders than congressional reformers. In 2023, however, with a Biden presidency and a small 4 seat Republican majority, the Freedom Caucus is returning to its roots. They will use the small size of the majority to exert maximum leverage on leadership.
Republican Leadership and rank and file Members have long held a different view. The legislative process is difficult and complicated and requires compromises at times with the other party to both make progress and fulfill basic requirements – like keeping the government open. The essential dispute between the Freedom Caucus and the rank and file boils down to the balance between fighting and compromising.
The agreement reached between the holdouts and Speaker McCarthy’s team essentially sets the parameters for how the Republican conference will strike that balance. Republican leadership has agreed to fight. But they haven’t promised that they will succeed because they can’t. Republican leadership cannot promise that all Republicans will support a balanced budget. They cannot promise that all Republicans will support brinkmanship on the debt ceiling. And they certainly cannot promise Senate Democrats, or the White House will agree to any of this. All they can promise to the Freedom Caucus is that they will try.
Going into this year, it was clear the annual appropriations cycle and raising the debt ceiling would be messy challenging fights with uncertain outcomes. The events of last week essentially confirm what we already knew.
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