DANIEL VAUGHAN: Kevin McCarthy Commands the House

 June 2, 2023

Six months ago, Kevin McCarthy's speakership struggled to get off the launchpad. A group of discontents in the Republican House Caucus used the slim margins Republicans had in the House to vote against McCarthy and prevent anyone from taking the top spot. McCarthy hammered them with continual votes and negotiated with them, eventually cobbling together the votes necessary to ascend to House Speaker.

That inauspicious start culminated in winning a standoff against the White House and Senate Democrats despite having very little leverage against either. Democrats had one plan with the debt ceiling standoff, dare McCarthy to try and pass any legislation at all. They put all their chips on the Republican Caucus imploding under McCarthy's leadership. And after watching the bickering to start McCarthy's tenure, who could blame them?

But McCarthy did what no Democrat or journalist in Washington DC thought was possible. He passed a piece of debt ceiling legislation, making him the only man in town with a plan to solve the crisis. From that moment, despite all the weeping and gnashing of teeth from Democrats, McCarthy shifted Republicans into command of the situation and forced the White House to the negotiating table.

McCarthy puts on a masterclass.

The House passed McCarthy's deal 314-117, and the Senate quickly agreed, passing the legislation 63-36. Biden will sign the legislation which brings Republican spending cuts to the table and punts the debt ceiling past the 2024 elections.

What's more remarkable about McCarthy's deal is that the Republican caucus doesn't have to carry the burden. Because McCarthy forced Biden to negotiate the legislation and announce the deal, Democrats had to fall in line behind the President. That left Republicans essentially free to vote how they wanted for the debt ceiling bill while enjoying all the benefits of passing the bill.

No Republican had to walk the plank to ensure this legislation passed the finish line. Everyone in the House and Senate got to vote how they wanted and complain about it, all while not fearing a debt ceiling default.

In short, it was a masterstroke from McCarthy, a political masterclass in which Democrats were outfoxed, outmaneuvered, and out-politicked every step of the way. McCarthy had to fight to get his speakership off the ground, but he's now in command of the House. He has created unity in the Republican House Caucus that hasn't existed in decades.

McCarthy makes allies out of prior enemies.

Kimberly Strassel got it right in the Wall Street Journal, saying, "The House speaker notched a real win this week, when the House passed 314-117 a spending-reform bill negotiated almost entirely on Republican terms. The legislation is no panacea to federal ills, though it marks a sharp reversal from 18 months of Biden White House dominance. Equally important, it sent a loud message: Republicans can govern."

The typical grousing from the House Freedom Caucus wanted to cause McCarthy heartburn. But they helped design the legislation and can't replace McCarthy as Speaker of the House. Of all the parties that got the most in the bill, the House Freedom Caucus is near the top. They helped write the legislation and then got to vote against it, giving them the faux-political purity they always desire.

In fact, the most brilliant stroke of genius from McCarthy was enlisting Rep. Jim Jordan and the House Freedom Caucus to help sell the deal. By bringing this group to the table, McCarthy neutered the group that had often derailed any semblance of Republican governance with previous House Speakers.

McCarthy commands the House GOP Caucus and the House.

Does this signal smooth sailing for McCarthy and House Republicans from here on out? Of course not. McCarthy will have to work hard on many other pieces of legislation. Still, the formula is there to keep the Republican House united and working together. For a caucus more accustomed to self-loathing, votes of defeat, and overall uselessness, it's a stark change in governance styles.

Representative Kevin McCarthy is not just Speaker of the House - he commands it. His predecessors, Paul Ryan, and John Boehner, never could unite the House like McCarthy has done, nor could they rule with the iron fist of someone like Pelosi. The margins are slim in the House, but McCarthy managed to outwit Democrats when no one expected him to launch at all.

The other benefit of a united House Caucuse for the next year and a half is that the House will be an effective barrier against extremism from the White House. In fact, McCarthy might be able to force Senate Democrats to the negotiating table to force Biden to consider legislation he otherwise might not.

For the foreseeable future, Kevin McCarthy commands the House.

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