The Chaos is the Point
The anti-McCarthy holdouts have no end game.
Assessing the ongoing House Republican clown show, TIME Washington Correspondent Philip Elliott contends, “The Chaos Is the Point: The McCarthy Holdouts Are Trolling Democracy.” He makes a strong case. After a preliminary summary of events, he argues,
Around Washington, insiders have started to shift their conversation in a crucial way. At the start of the week, a lot of the chatter was about what McCarthy could trade away to win over the Never Kevins, the bloc of lawmakers who insisted they’d never support his ascent to Speaker. During closed-door meetings and hallway interventions, McCarthy and his allies have offered a seemingly never-ending raft of concessions: two seats on the powerful Rules Committee for the Freedom Caucus, plus another seat for one of their friends; allowing for one member to call a vote of no confidence in the Speaker at any time; a redo of the budgeting process to split the major spending bills into 12 pieces; and a vote on term limits.
On the outside, the nominally independent campaign arm aligned with McCarthy pledged it would no longer use its deep pockets to meddle in open primaries, meaning the far-right elements were free to nominate fringe candidates without fear of the Establishment working to block them. (It was reminiscent of Senate Republicans’ decision to take a hands-off approach; ask Minority Leader Mitch McConnell how that worked out.)
The House holdouts accepted the wins. But they still couldn’t get to yes on McCarthy as the person at the top of the heap. They just didn’t trust him, even after Donald Trump himself directly intervened to help his most useful supplicant. They cashed millions of dollars in checks from him and his allies, but money wasn’t going to buy loyalty.
Which is why it might be time for Washington to stop treating this like any other negotiation. McCarthy has traded away much of his potential power as Speaker, offloading a lot of the prerogatives to a vocal minority that, for the most part, doesn’t even seem to care much about its legislative muscle. Even if McCarthy emerges with a gavel in his hand, his knuckles will be bloodied by the rulers his far-right tormenters have been using to whack him. His hold will be weak, given a single malcontent can call for his removal—and be guaranteed a vote on it. And the powerful appropriators won’t have final say over spending, given an open-ended amendment process that could turn a tightly written spending package into an Amazon wish list on the fly. The damage, even in McCarthy’s uncertain victory, has been done.
Maybe it’s time to call the goal here what it actually is: chaos. This isn’t about policy. It’s about personality and personal aggrandizement. McCarthy allies asked the holdouts last night what they wanted, and they couldn’t get an answer. “Behind closed doors, tell us what you actually want, or shut the f— up,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas fumed. He wasn’t alone.
“The Taliban 20” is how some lawmakers have started referring to their intransigent colleagues. Others are branding them “The Band of Others.” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas has emerged as perhaps the most sincere of the GOP holdouts in pushing for achievable changes to actual rules. Yet his demands have been largely drowned out by those wanting…well, something. Even some of the House’s most unpredictable right-wingers lined up behind McCarthy, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, meaning this wasn’t about chasing conspiracy theories or kook agenda pieces. Motivating the opposition here is owning McCarthy, making this hurt, showing how a few insurrectionists can derail normalcy in the name of, frankly, fun.
This is what happens when celebrity is treated as a substitute for governing chops. You get obstruction for the sake of it, leaving legitimate concerns about the legislative process from Roy lumped with the tantrums. A tyranny of the minority has left the House stuck in park as Republicans look for the keys they already have in the ignition. They just can’t bring themselves to turn over the engine, because apparently turning on themselves is so much more delightful.
A WaPo feature, “Policy demands, personal animus and more: Meet the McCarthy resistance” tries to get more granular but one comes away with a similar impression.
“They want to pull the pins on the grenades and lock the doors,” Dan Crenshaw of Texas said of the defectors. “They need to be men and adults and say what they want, instead of playing these little games; that’s what we’re asking.”
He added, “I’m tired of your stupid platitudes that some consultant told you to say on the campaign trail, all right. Behind closed doors, tell us what you actually want, or shut the f— up.”
The group is ideologically aligned, with 19 members part of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-line Republicans that was created eight years ago, born out of the tea party movement that challenged the GOP establishment and sought to disrupt Washington. All but two of the 20 baselessly denied the results of the 2020 presidential election, and 14 of them voted not to certify Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.
Some of the McCarthy critics played a role in unsuccessful efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Perry was actively engaged with the Trump White House in the move to decertify Biden’s electoral college votes, and the FBI seized his phone as part of its investigation into the use of fake electors to try to overturn Biden’s victory.
Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia, another McCarthy defector, said during a May 2021 hearing examining security lapses during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that the rioters resembled a “normal tourist visit.”
Most of McCarthy’s foes hail from deeply conservative districts and won their elections handily, although Boebert held her seat by just over 500 votes in a surprisingly close race. Five are newly elected freshman Republicans who, because of the speakership stalemate, are still waiting to be sworn in for the first time.
Some of the hard-right members started voicing dissatisfaction with McCarthy last year. On New Year’s Day, nine Republicans signed a letter opposing McCarthy. “The times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures,” read the letter, posted on Twitter by Perry.
Although most of the 20 were endorsed by Trump in 2022 and align themselves with his MAGA movement, they were unmoved when Trump weighed in on social media with a tepid endorsement of McCarthy on Wednesday morning. “Sad!” Gaetz said in a statement to Fox News, adding that Trump’s opinion “changes neither my view of McCarthy nor Trump nor my vote.”
“We love Mr. Trump, but we also appreciate the moment. We also appreciate that Mr. McCarthy has a history that has been off-putting to some, and we don’t think he’s the guy,” said Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, who had originally offered himself as an alternative to McCarthy. “He’s just not the guy.”
Biggs sent out a fundraising appeal on Tuesday, asking supporters to make a donation to his campaign if they “agree a CONSERVATIVE should lead us in Washington… not another RINO Establishment hack like McCarthy.” A link to a donation page says, “BREAK THE ESTABLISHMENT ONCE AND FOR ALL. EVERY DOLLAR HELPS SECURE THE SPEAKER POSITION.”
Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who supports McCarthy, said that there have been constant conversations between different groups of people trying to reach a deal for the past several days but that it’s been hard to determine exactly what the 20 naysayers want other than to prevent McCarthy from becoming speaker.
“I don’t see a lot of policy differences here. Clearly, we’ve got 20 people who don’t trust the current leader. We’ve got a lot of other members that are losing their trust in those 20 members,” Cole said. “And so that’s a personal problem, but it’s not a political or a policy one.”
A common complaint from the 20 was McCarthy’s failure to engage with them over the summer, when many in the party thought the GOP would retake the House by larger margins than it did in the midterms. Instead, the GOP’s narrow hold on the majority meant that to get to the 218 needed to win the speaker job if all members voted for a candidate, McCarthy could afford to lose only four votes.
“He thought it was going to be a red wave; he didn’t need us. That’s not good faith,” Norman said.
I have no respect at all for McCarthy, who’s a coward and a weakling who sold out the country backing Trump’s seditious claims. That it didn’t buy him the support of the MAGA wing is fitting, honestly. But this is clearly about self-aggrandizement and personal pique, not policy. The Taliban 20 don’t even have an alternate Speaker lined up. They just don’t want to vote for McCarthy.
‘Taliban 20’. Love it! Someone needs to get that to Jeffries and have it come out of the mouth of every member of the Dem Caucus, every time a camera or microphone is stuck in their faces.
Fine, then let McCarthy do the “right thing” (as if that means anything to the GOP anymore) and withdraw his name from contention. He doesn’t have some god-given right to the gavel, except in his own mind. Eventually, like around maybe Easter, McCarthy’s backers will start having their own conversations about who to nominate instead and McCarthy will find out about it in the headlines.
And Norman’s comment above is key to everything: “He thought he didn’t need us.” What the hell was he doing for the two months between now and the election? No effort at all to win votes, just Trump says vote for me or else?
And again: why does he even want the job under these conditions?
Today is Jan 6th. It is in the Republican interest to memory hole this fact. I wonder if part of the negotiations is to create barriers to protect the seditious congressmen in the Freedom Caucus (Perry, Jordan, Gosar, etc.) from any revelations.
As a side note, I wonder how the Democrats are going to approach today. Do they go full out attack mode on McCarthy or the Freedom Caucus or stay just as meek as they have been hoping the voters will reward mature behavior.
I wonder how everyone is gaming this out.
The Democrats don’t need to do squat. They’ve handled it fine so far – “meek” is not at all the right word – and they should keep doing what they’re doing. This isn’t their mess to clean up.
Although eventually the popcorn budget will run out.
@Scott: Hmmm, there is a whole article on the Jan 6 conspirators and Freedom Caucus, if you wish to read it.
Enablers, line-straddlers and quiet resisters: How GOP lawmakers contributed to Jan. 6
As far as I’m concerned, the Jan 6 investigation will not be finished until there are people punished for betraying this country.
One thing that this is a really key illustration of is how ok the far-right is with the notion of minoritarian rule. A group of 20 is holding the will of the majority (200) of Republican representatives hostage.
The idea that this is a debate is laughable for all the reasons Steven listed in a previous post.
Also, it’s never a good look to, as part of your speech, call out that “this isn’t dysfunction”–as Lakoff reminds us “to deny the framing is to invoke and reinforce the framing.”
By-and-large these folks;
~ supported the overthrow of a free and fair election, and thus the very heart of our democratic system.
~ support Putin and Russia over a democratic Ukraine.
~ are exacting concessions that could very likely make it nearly impossible for the House to even function as a democratic entity.
Freedom Caucus may be one of the most Orwellian names, ever.
I 100% agree this is true about the “Taliban 20.”
It is true of McCarthy as well.
@daryl and his brother darryl:
Certainly true, but who would support (or even join) a group called the Anarchy Caucus? (Though I don’t think that name would be a deterrent to the people who vote them into office–except to the extent that it sounds academe elitist.)
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
I don’t know… sounds like a decent death-metal band to me.
(edit to fix tags)
@Steven L. Taylor:
To some degree, this feels more about person than policy. And if memory serves, more than a few of the holdouts have more or less said this as well.
And, even if the idea of putting up a candidate who gets crossover votes wasn’t a perennial pundits fantasy, McCarthy is the worst possible candidate to hang those hopes on. Not only did he run interference for Trump and the MAGA caucus in the wake of January 6th, but the reality is no one trusts him to keep his word. Voting for him would be career suicide for any Democrat (and I don’t think even Nancy Pelosi is capable of whipping up that support).
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
Is it even anarchy?
As I recall, the idea of anarchy is that people don’t need a coercive government to maintain order* (and, I suppose, also, that airplanes don’t need wings to maintain flight, but I don’t know the details of anarcho-aerodynamics).
The purpose here seems more to maintain disorder. granted, that’s often the result of anarchy,a dn what people have come to think of as anarchy. But not really the philosophical intent of the movement.
*This actually does work in small settings when people share a purpose, sometimes. Say in a movie theater, where the audience shares in the purpose of watching the movie. Even then, incidents of people disrupting the showing are commonplace.
On the lighter side, I just read someone comparing McCarthy’s obsession with obtaining the Speaker’s Gavel to Sméagol/Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring… and now that’s all I’m going to be thinking about for the rest of the day.
“Oh that nasty, nasty Gaet-zeseseses… So mean to poor McCarthy… Keeping me from my prec–ioussessses.”
@Mu Yixiao: Point taken. Revise my question to include “outside showbusiness” at an appropriate place.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Some years ago Matt Yglesias wrote an article in which he noted that, across the world, political parties containing words like “freedom” and “liberty” in their name are most likely to be right-wing nationalist.
@Mu Yixiao: Anarchism is much more punk than death metal.
Didn’t they play “inna gadda da disco?” No, no, no, my mistake, that was The Nuns From Outer Space.
Thanks, Matt! Now I’ve got image/soundtrack stuck in my head! Happy Friday!!
Wow. Talk about not knowing how to read a room.
Matt Gaetz just threatened to resign from Congress if the Dems work with the GOP to elect a moderate as speaker.
Seriously, Matt. Don’t threaten us with a good time. I wonder how many Dem and GOP reps are working together right now just for that reason.
The Taliban 20 have effectively separated from the House Republican party. It would seem to me that the Democrats are effectively the majority party. I understand that it does not work that way, but I don’t see the House Republicans capable of acting as a party for this vote and probably for many other votes going forward. Say what you want about the Republican Party writ large (and people around here say plenty), a party without any effective control of its membership is not a party.
@Flat Earth Luddite:
My job here is done.
Also, though he already kinda looks like one, Matt Gaetz would be the most odious hobbit ever.
Having seen the full clip, I actually read it a little differently. He was saying that Dems will never agree to vote for a Republican Speaker, and to demonstrate how confident he was in this prediction, he said he’d resign if that were to happen. It was less “If you dare do that, I’ll hold my breath till I turn blue” than “If THAT ever happens, I’ll eat my hat.”
Not that I believe he’d follow through, either way.
I have a nephew that plays in a Death Metal band in Portland. Told him that they sound like an old time bottling plant in need of service. He just laughs.
Crenshaw, as usual, is being deliberately obtuse. It’s quite clear what most of the holdouts want: Anyone but McCarthy. Stupid, personal, juvenile…yep. But if he can’t tell what they want by this point…
In some ways I hope this goes on for months. Yes, it’s damaging the country in various subtle ways, but really, what is going to happen when they do get a speaker seated? Endless time-wasting investigations into stupid shit like Hunter’s laptop, that’s what. In the end, we are heading to a game of chicken on the horribly mis-named debt ceiling later this year, regardless of which particular clown ends up as the Speaker. Until then, they might as well wallow in uselessness, instead of getting a figurehead in place allowing them to be useless AND waste the administration’s time responding to oversight requests.
I think it goes past OK with a notion. It’s the Koch fueled goal. They have the filibuster to make the Senate ineffective and they’re on the way to being able to paralyze the House. After all, it’s a matter of faith that government can’t work, no matter how hard it is to make it so.
Well, my Congressman Chip Roy just flipped and voted for McCarthy. The tears on his Facebook page are flowing.
Yes, I would agree that the goal is the chaos: the media mentions, the fundraising. And also the minoritarian rule. Maybe this gang of 20 can control all 435 members of Congress. Wouldn’t that be awesome! You would be so cool if you could pull that off. It would be like winning the NBA championship with one guy on the court. Democracy is dumb!
Uhh, that last bit was “in character” for them. Not my own feelings. And yeah, I’d have to agree with the Onion on this point. Explaining the joke ruins it.
@Just Another Ex-Republican:
I’m not so sure. There’s a whole host of other things they want. Votes of no confidence. Dismantling of the ethics committee. Chairmanships of several committees. I don’t want to say anything that might be considered favorable to McCarthy, because, total douchebag, but it may be the reason is he is still the establishment’s guy is because there is literally no one else remotely qualified who would be willing to fill the role given the concessions which are now baked in.
@MarkedMan: If McCarthy is eventually elected he will be nothing but a figurehead, a puppet of the worst fascistic impulses of the modern GOP.
America will suffer, and the most vulnerable will suffer the most.
Down to 6 Never Kevins?
No! I don’t want this to end! Hold tough, you traitorous little dirtbags! Just because he has given you cover for your treason, joined in with praising your treason, and will give you anything your heart desires just to feel the weight of that gavel in his hands is no reason to be weak now!
Whatever happened to spite? And obstinance? And burning it all down?
(I would accept an immediate petition to discharge the Speaker, as soon as he has the gavel, now that these are allowed with a threshold of one. The twenty minute Speaker would be ok by me.)
Ignorant Brit question here: does this voting procedure for Speaker always require an absolute majority of representatives?
Is there any fall back to a vote by plurality of reps?
If so, how would that work?
So TPM is reporting that McCarthy agreed to let the crazies have total control over their debt ceiling negotiations. He’s essentially given the terrorists permission to shoot everyone in the building in exchange for letting him become Chief Hostage Negotiator
Yes, but if all but a couple dozen nut-jobs want him to break that promise he can break it. Honor is not in fashion at the moment.
It has happened but rare. There would need to be a majority vote for a rule change – hard to get that if there is not also majority support for some candidate.
Do they need a majority or a plurality for a switch to plurality? 😉
Perhaps because I’m a damn furriner, this whole business is starting to make me think of a more sedentary version of American football.
Obsessive adherence to arcane rules, stops and starts, swapping teams, screaming coaches, good drinking game, any unfamiliar non-partisans thinking “for the sweet love of heaven GET ON WITH IT!”
@JohnSF: My understanding is that the only thing they can vote on at the moment is Speaker.
Not that we needed it, but we have a new example that illustrates the level of distrust and loathing within the Republicans themselves. There is a Republican Rep, Kevin Hern, whose mother passed away and her funeral is this weekend. He has just informed McCarthy that he will miss the funeral in order to stay in Washington and cast his vote. The thing is, it’s not actually necessary. There is a way to handle this that I’ve come across a few times: someone voting the opposite way agrees to sit out, in this case to not vote by proxy and not be physically present in the hall. Over the years I’ve seen this done quietly between Dems and Repubs a few times and I suspect it has happened many times that it never became publicly known.
Based on the fact that Hern is staying, I assume it means either no one within the loon coalition would agree to it, or that even if they offered no one would trust them to keep their word.
@MarkedManI 100% agree that the House and Senate’s current mode of voting is absurd.
@JohnSF: I’m not sure that needing to have conditions that would negate the need for a rule change–in this case, having majority support in order to allow passage by a plurality–is all that uncommon. I’ve seen situations where students wanting to challenge a course by examination were permitted to do so–after they had completed all of the daily work assignments and quizzes.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
I’ve seen both way round in various stuff on comparative European constitutions back in the day.
Many decades back, pretty boring then, and almost completely lost to recall now. LOL
A few highlights:
– How about the former Austrian system of allocating civil service posts to party members based on percentages of votes in the election?
– Swiss cantonal autonomy and mandatory referenda?
– Former Dutch system of reserved representation for religous group?
– And NO ONE outside Belgium really understands the Belgian system. (For that matter, most people think even the Belgians don’t)
So Brits and Americans don’t necessarily have to think we’re the only ones with funny ways.
Though to be serious:
When are the first major budget authorization required?
Can President Biden proceed on emergency executive authority?
A bit less serious 🙂
Can the Senators start ambushing and beating up random Representatives in the halls of Congress, and stealing their lunch money, on the basis of of “ya’ll just wussies anyhow.”?
@MarkedMan: Would a Democrat voting “present” have the same effect?
I see no reason why anyone should miss their mother’s funeral for Kevin Fucking McCarthy. If Hern can’t get someone to cover for him, just let McCarthy twist in the wind for a few days. It’s not like we need the House running any time soon.
@JohnSF: The previous House passed a bill funding the government for basically a year, because they knew the new House would be a shit show (not sure they expected this shit show). The debt ceiling comes up in September.
They can sit on their hands for a while and it will make no difference.
Thank you for that.
No gotta modify that: not to diss you Gustopher 🙂 but thank you Dems, and most especially, thank you Nancy Pelosi.
I miss Nancy Pelosi.
Is she enjoying a nice glass of wine now and smiling wryly?
Also, saw Hakeem Jeffries on BBC news yesterday; another impressive Dem.
I have to say, a lot of Democrat Senators and Representative who crop up on British news are really impressive performers, at least on first impressions basis.
I almost have a bit of a man-crush on Adam Schiff, mildly geeky though he may be. 😉
Republicans, not so much; with a very few exceptions.
Kevin McCarthy deserves a ‘Neville Chamberlain’ Award and Medal of Spinelessness for completely selling out The House to the demands of the Sedition Caucus.
@JohnSF: Sadly, you also have to thank Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans for putting up no roadblocks. They knew what a shut show this was going to be.
The last congress’s House Republicans were unhappy this hostage was being taken away. We should have raised debt ceiling and funded Ukraine through 2316 while we were at it.
I have to thank Mitch McSnappingTurtle?
But at least it shows he’s a serious, if rather cynical, politician.
I suspect every night he regrets his failure to knife Trump in 2015.
But this is what happens when you get into bed with the Murdoch organization.
Someone’s going to get shagged, and it’s not likely to be King Koala.
See also: British Conservative Party.
You kiss the ring*, you have to follow through.
*Everyone thinks the ring is a metaphorical ring, like one worn on a Cheeto finger. It’s not. It’s a real ring-shaped sphincter lower down.
As in the immortal British rugby chant:
“Sing! Sing! Or show us yer ring!”
I agree on Ukraine.
The debt ceiling simply needs to go. Let them play brinkmanship when and if they ever pass a budget.
Bobert votes present.
So did the unindicted Gaetz, costing Kevin another election.
I think Kevin’s strategy, if I may use the term loosely, is to tire out the Taliban. That is, they’ll eventually vote Kevin just to end the whole thing.
They voted, just barely, to adjourn. Before it was gaveled, McCarthy and Gaetz had a talk, then Kevin changed his vote on adjournment and apparently they’re going to hold a midnight vote. Gaetz is grinning. What the hell did McCarthy give him? Does he have any teenage daughters?
I get the rules, but fact is Kevin was elected by a minority of his own party.
Most of the major news stations are calling it for McCarthy.
Let us enjoy this two day weekend, before the shit-show starts. I never thought we’d go from “Celebrity President: The White House” to “Survivor: The House of Representatives” so fast. 🙁