- Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker Friday night after a week of disarray and 15 rounds of voting.
- The battle for the speaker revealed new divisions in the far right wing of the party.
- Thanks to last week’s events, McCarthy could struggle to handle the narrow GOP majority.
What would have been the first week of the House GOP in the majority since 2018 turned into a days-long chaotic battle over who would lead the chamber in the 118th Congress.
After a wild Friday night on the House floor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally won the speakership after 15 rounds of voting in which a hardline faction of 20 Republicans refused to vote for him until he made a series of concessions. The extent of these concessions wasn’t entirely clear, but the ordeal revealed a GOP with newly complex departments.
“It’s a schism within a schism,” Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who studies Congress and US politics, told Insider.
For years, the GOP has been increasingly divided between MAGA-type lawmakers — essentially devoted supporters of former President Donald Trump — and those more willing to oppose or distance themselves from the former president.
But the oratory showed these MAGA lawmakers are more divided than ever among themselves, suggesting the bloc in the new Congress could be more unpredictable than it previously seemed — making McCarthy’s task of navigating a narrow majority that much more difficult could.
The “Trumpy tribe” split
“Factions within parties are normal,” said Kosar. “If we didn’t have factions within the parties, it would be kind of scary.”
He pointed to MAGA lawmakers, who often oppose the Republican establishment, but also to progressive Democrats like Reps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, who have taken issue with their leadership and made demands on them.
However, MAGA officials, many of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus, have almost invariably settled on similar concerns, typically taking the stance of Trump himself. These lawmakers include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, among others.
They were among the Republicans who took some of Trump’s most extreme views, including false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and all voted to overturn the January 6, 2021 election results.
But during this week’s struggle of House Speakers, some of them found themselves on opposite sides, even after their would-be leader, Trump, took a stand.
“Trump himself is yelling that people should get behind McCarthy and guess what, you’ve got 20 people just ignoring him,” Kosar said, adding that one could argue that the “Trumpy tribe” of people in the House of Representatives actually lost weight “because they divided it among themselves.”
Longtime allies Greene and Gaetz were in direct opposition, with her standing behind McCarthy and Gaetz leading the charge against him. Greene even complained that Gaetz and other members of the Freedom Caucus, including Boebert and Perry, excluded her from negotiations with McCarthy.
“Do you know why I’m upset? Because Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Scott Perry, the chair of the Freedom Caucus, walked into Kevin McCarthy’s office last night and made their own personal demands about which subcommittee chairs they want, and who they want on committees and who they remove from committees want,” she said on Tuesday. “And you know what? The Freedom Caucus chairman did not negotiate anything for me.”
Jordan also stood behind McCarthy, pitting him against Perry, his close ally. “These guys used to be brothers in arms. Not anymore. Not on this subject,” said Kosar.
Many were watching whether Trump’s interference would sway votes, but when he backed McCarthy on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to back the Californian, the 20 holdouts didn’t budge, suggesting Trump’s own influence in the MAGA wing of the USA decreases group.
Narrowly navigate through the divisions
McCarthy won the speakership by making concessions to hardened Republicans who opposed him. Reports, including from Bloomberg and Politico, said these concessions could include a government spending cap and a framework for House rules that would reduce the speaker’s power and give more power to individual members.
For example, McCarthy reportedly approved a rule change to expand members’ rights to “motions to vacate the presidency,” which would essentially allow a single lawmaker to force a chamber-wide “vote of no confidence” on the speaker.
With such a narrow majority over the Democrats — 222-213 — McCarthy will need the support of almost every member of his party to pass legislation. That said, even though MAGA lawmakers make up a relatively small percentage of the Republican conference, McCarthy will need at least some of their support.
With new divisions and hostilities emerging in the aftermath of the House Speakers’ fight, it’s unclear how effectively McCarthy can do just that.
“How many sore heads will there be after this is settled? How many false feelings from those who took to the mat on either side of it?” Kosar told Insider this week ahead of Friday’s final vote.
“And how is that going to affect the GOP’s ability to build majorities and work together and bring the team together and let the past rest? That is an open question.”