Michaels Reynolds/Pool via Associated Press, File
- Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker on Friday night after a week of disarray and 15 rounds of voting.
- The battle for speaker revealed new divisions among the hard-right wing of the party.
- Thanks to the events of the past week, McCarthy may struggle to manage the slim GOP majority.
What would’ve been the House GOP’s first week back 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 ultimately won the speakership after 15 rounds of voting during which a hardline faction of 20 Republicans refused to vote for him until he made a number of concessions. The extent of those concessions was not entirely clear, but the ordeal revealed a GOP with newly complex divisions.
“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.
The GOP for years has increasingly been divided into MAGA-type lawmakers — essentially devoted supporters of former President Donald Trump — and those more willing to go against or distance themselves from the former president.
But the speaker battle showed those MAGA lawmakers are divided amongst themselves more than ever before, suggesting the bloc may be more unpredictable in the new Congress than it previously seemed — which could make McCarthy’s job of navigating a slim majority much more difficult.
The ‘Trumpy tribe’ divided
“Factions within parties are normal,” Kosar said. “If we didn’t have factions within parties, it would be kind of creepy.”
He pointed to the MAGA lawmakers who often buck the Republican establishment, but also to the progressive Democrats, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, who have sparred with and made demands of their leadership as well.
However, the MAGA representatives, many of which are members of the House Freedom Caucus, have almost without exception united around similar causes, typically taking the stance of Trump himself. Those lawmakers include Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, among others.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., left, talks with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., during the eleventh vote in the House chamber as the House meets for the third day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
They were among the Republicans to embrace some of Trump’s most extreme views, including the false claims of widespread fraud about the 2020 presidential election, and all voted to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021.
But during the House speaker battle this week, some of them found themselves on opposites sides, even after their would-be leader, Trump, took a stance.
“Trump himself is yelling that people should get behind McCarthy and guess what, you’ve got 20 people just ignoring him,” Kosar said, adding one can argue the “Trumpy tribe” of people in the House have actually diminished “because they have split amongst 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, shut her out of negotiations with McCarthy.
“Do you know why I’m upset? Because Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Scott Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, walked into Kevin McCarthy’s office last night and made their own personal demands about what subcommittee chairmanships they want to have, and who they want on committees, and who they want taken off committees,” she said on Tuesday. “And guess what? The chairman of the Freedom Caucus negotiated nothing for me.”
Jordan was also standing behind McCarthy, pitting him against Perry, his close ally. “These guys used to be brothers in arms. Not anymore. Not on this topic,” Kosar said.
Many were watching to see if Trump chiming in would sway the votes, but when he endorsed McCarthy on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to get behind the Californian, the 20 holdouts didn’t budge, indicating Trump’s own influence is diminishing in the MAGA wing of the party.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., talks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., after Gaetz voted “present” in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Navigating the divisions with a slim majority
McCarthy won the speakership by making concessions to the hardline Republicans opposing him. Reports, including from Bloomberg and Politico, have said those concessions may include a government spending cap and a House rules framework that would diminish the speaker’s power and give more power to individual members.
For instance, McCarthy was said to have agreed to a rule change to expand the rights of members to “motion to vacate the chair,” which would essentially allow a single lawmaker to force a chamber-wide “no confidence” vote for the speaker.
With such a slim majority over the Democrats — 222-213 — McCarthy will need the support of almost every member of his party to pass legislation. Meaning although 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 animosities on display after the House speaker battle, it’s unclear how effectively McCarthy will be able to do just that.
“How many sore heads are there going to be after this is settled? How many rubbed wrong feelings from those who went to the mat on each side of this?” Kosar told Insider this week before the final vote on Friday.
“And how is that going to play out for the ability of the GOP to build majorities and cooperate, and pull the team together and let bygones be bygones? That’s an open question.”