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Kevin McCarthy’s Willingness to Appease the Far Right Will Create Chaos

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“I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up. And I will never give up for you, the American people.” 

These were among Representative Kevin McCarthy’s first tweets after being elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yet, McCarthy made numerous concessions to the House’s conservative hardliners — known as the House Freedom Caucus — to be elected Speaker. These concessions are a part of McCarthy’s continued history of abandoning his integrity to appease the far-right. His behavior has greatly undermined his power as Speaker and by extension, his ability to enforce economic and social policies to protect the American people. By reducing the number of lawmakers necessary for a “motion to vacate” the Speaker to one, and seating more members of the Freedom Caucus to the House Rules Committee, conservative hardliners already wield a tight grip on McCarthy’s speakership.

McCarthy demonstrated his willingness to shift his stances in favor of the far-right long before his election as Speaker. Four days after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack, McCarthy proposed a plan to GOP leaders for impeaching Trump and expressed that he wanted other Republican leaders to have their social media accounts banned as Trump’s were.

Once it became clear to McCarthy that very few House Republicans were on board with his plan, he had a swift change of heart. At the end of January 2021, he posed for a photograph with Trump at his home in Mar-a-Lago. 

History repeated itself in the House after the sixth ballot. McCarthy agreed to various concessions in the recently passed House rules package, which Republicans claim will “empower individual lawmakers to have a greater voice in legislation and advance the party’s goal of limiting spending.”

This sounds great at face value, but a closer look at the House rules package sends a less optimistic message. The package weakens McCarthy’s leverage in exchange for lawmakers in the far-right, starting with a key rule that enables a single House representative to move to “vacate the chair,” or remove the speaker. 

With the threat of ousting looming over his speakership, McCarthy will be prevented from taking the actions that he believes will serve the best interests of the American people. Instead, he will have no option but to follow the course that pleases Republicans, especially those in the Freedom Caucus. Given McCarthy’s swift return to Trump’s side in 2021, he will not have trouble putting aside his beliefs for the sake of gaining ultraconservatives’ approval. 

The package will also require “spending cuts as part of any increase in the debt ceiling.” Simply put, the debt ceiling is a limit on how much money the government can borrow. Over time, the government can raise this limit to “finance existing obligations,” not to allow for additional spending. In an effort by Republicans to lower spending and taxes, however, the package will make it much more challenging for McCarthy to raise the debt ceiling. The New York Times reports that this inability to raise the debt ceiling could result in disastrous consequences, preventing the House from conducting basic tasks like “keeping the government open, paying the country’s bills and avoiding default on America’s trillions of dollars in debt.” 

In addition to these concessions, which are undoubtedly in favor of far-right Republicans, McCarthy agreed to several closed-door negotiations that are not documented in the rules package. Notably, McCarthy plans to install several members of the Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which “decides what bills are presented to the House.” 

Republican Rep. Nancy Mace commented on McCarthy’s back-room deals.

“We can’t think of anything more ‘swampy’ than a member of Congress who tells the American people they’re holding up the speaker vote because they’re… [brokering] some back-room deal, hidden away from the American people.” 

McCarthy’s lack of transparency with Americans further proves that he is more interested in the Speakership than he is in serving the common good.

It is worth noting that the House majority had no “viable Republican alternative” other than McCarthy. Thus, to an extent, McCarthy conceded to the far-right because any other centrist candidate for Speaker would have needed to do the same. That does not excuse his willingness to make problematic concessions, however, and it certainly will not shield the American people from the chaos that could ensue as a result.

Chaya Sandhu is an Opinion Apprentice for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at clsandhu@uci.edu.