Inside the House floor drama, where the speakership hangs in the balance
I spent the day in the House press gallery, watching the drama below unfold, and I wish I could adequately describe the body language of Kevin McCarthy. Reporter Jonathan Allen, who’s been covering the Hill longer than I have, was sitting to my right, and he offered up this attempt: “He looks like he swallowed a bag of knives.” That sounded about right to me.
(Here’s me appearing with Krystal Ball in one of the sound proof cubbies just off the House floor in the press gallery, looking like a hostage.)
McCarthy knew he was in for a very rough day. It started with a shouting match of a private meeting, and then moved to a roll call vote at noon, where each member was asked to stand and state their preference for Speaker. A bunch gave little speeches, dragging the process out that much longer, but when Cori Bush and then Summer Lee both voted for Hakeem Jeffries – rather than vote present – it was clear McCarthy was in for a longer day than he’d hoped for.
To win, you need a majority of those “present and voting.” So if, say, ten Democrats don’t vote, or vote present, then McCarthy can lose five additional Republicans and still get a majority. But Democrats from the center right to the far left had no intention of bailing McCarthy out.
Throughout the day, it turned out, McCarthy had been warning his colleagues that he’d be able to get enough Democrats to vote present that their votes against him would matter. I reported for The Intercept today that one of the lead agitators, Matt Gaetz, took that threat of McCarthy’s across the aisle – literally – and asked Ocasio-Cortez if it was true that Democrats might vote present and help McCarthy out.
Let’s pause on that for a moment: Does it appear that Gaetz actually believes the Fox News storyline that AOC and Bernie secretly run the Democratic Party? I think he just might.
The exchange between Gaetz and AOC on the first day of the 118th Congress unfolded in the back of the chamber and was caught on C-SPAN.
With many members noting the conspicuous pair’s exchange, Gaetz told Ocasio-Cortez that McCarthy has been telling Republicans that he’ll be able to cut a deal with Democrats to vote present, enabling him to win a majority of those present and voting, according to Ocasio-Cortez. She told Gaetz that wasn’t happening, and also double-checked with Democratic party leadership.
“McCarthy was suggesting he could get Dems to walk away to lower his threshold,” Ocasio-Cortez told me of her conversation with Gaetz on McCarthy’s failed ploy. “And I fact checked and said absolutely not.”
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Gaetz, who has shown a willingness to break with the GOP establishment, said that his crew of McCarthy opponents was dug in and would continue to resist him, adding that McCarthy has been threatening opponents with loss of committee assignments. A private gathering of Republicans ahead of the vote had been heated, multiple sources said. (I reached out to Gaetz but haven’t heard back yet. If you know him, tell him to text me back.)
McCarthy and Gaetz presented their positions in dueling press conferences Tuesday morning. McCarthy said that Gaetz and his allies had requested plum committee assignments in exchange for supporting his speaker bid. McCarthy also accused Gaetz of telling Republican members that he was willing to elect Jeffries as speaker rather than accede to McCarthy. Gaetz told reporters that he and his allies didn’t trust McCarthy.
Ahead of the second round of voting, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who won six votes for speaker in the first round, nominated McCarthy again. Then Gaetz rose and nominated Jordan to laughter from both sides. All 19 McCarthy opponents voted for Jordan in the second round, leaving McCarthy again at 203 votes — 15 short of what he needed.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. another McCarthy opponent, also huddled with Ocasio-Cortez in the chamber, where they discussed the possibility of adjourning the House. Gosar did not immediately respond to a request for comment. AOC said Gosar did not apologize for sharing an anime video of her getting killed, one of Gosar’s many controversies last term.
In the third round, McCarthy won just 202 votes, losing 20 of his colleagues this time. Exhausted, the House adjourned.
McCarthy’s allies say he’ll push ahead and that they’ll support only him and nobody else – the hilariously named “Only Kevin” strategy. It’s perfect, since the best thing about McCarthy for his colleagues is that he’s just OK. The problem for McCarthy is that many of his opponents don’t want any more concessions, they just don’t want him, and there’s nothing he can do about that. But if through the night he can peel off a half-dozen or so with various carrots and sticks, he’ll start tomorrow better than today. The problem for his opponents is they also have no path to victory; neither side does, yet one side has to win. Each is just hoping the other runs out of energy.
The idea being kicked around the Hill now is that perhaps there could be a face-saving ceremonial speaker like Rep. Hal Rogers, the longest serving member of the House, or the retiring Fred Upton, and real power would be vested in the hands of the majority leader. Anything’s possible, but that feels too cute for me. But anything is possible at this point.
The staring contest continues tomorrow. I’ll be covering it in the morning for Counter Points here, which is moving from Fridays to Wednesdays.
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Thanks for all the details. I felt like I was in the gallery, with you giving the play by play.
Republicans know how to play hardball, the so-called Democrats do not. Those Democrats that call themselves Progressive should have been playing hardball with the Corporate Dems for the last two to four years, but they cannot. Why can't they? Because most are not progressive, and almost all of them are kissing the rings of their campaign donors.
Love hearing about what a train wreck the GOP house is. Wish AOC had done the same with Pelosi..
BTW - I was banned by Twitter. I have not made a single tweet since Musk took over the platform but i was banned none the less. Prior to Musks take over i had dunked on him a half a dozen or so times and never violated old Twitters terms of engagement.
I guess being Liberal is now banned on Twitter unless you have a lot of followers. I am not the only one this has happened to since Musk took over