Quotes of the day

House Speaker John Boehner “seemed to have no inkling on Thursday that his deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, was preparing to withdraw from the speaker’s race,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Said Boehner, a few minutes before the vote: “I’m confident he’ll win today and I’m confident he’ll win on Oct. 29.”


In the meeting, McCarthy’s announcement was greeted with gasps and some tears.

“It was shock, more so than when Speaker Boehner resigned,” said Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We were ready to have a vote, everybody had their barbecue and their Oreo cookies.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., guessed the GOP meeting lasted no more than three minutes.

“I think it was short and sweet. I think it just is what it is. Kevin got up and said, ‘The country’s more important than dividing people,’ and that, ‘Hey, we’re dividing people.’ And Boehner got up and said, ‘So we’re going to postpone this election,’” Walorski told CQ Roll Call as she headed to the floor from Cannon.


All indications were that the California Republican was aggressively campaigning for the job, and was easily the odds-on favorite to win it. “No one saw this coming,” as NBC’s Luke Russert said today, noting that at as recently as 8 a.m., McCarthy had clearly reiterated his interest in succeeding John Boehner.

By all accounts, McCarthy was on track to easily win the preliminary GOP conference vote today, though he was still short of the 218 votes he would have needed to win the speakership on the floor. But it’s not like anyone else was close to the requisite number of votes…

Of course, putting aside the palace intrigue, all of this has enormous implications for the GOP and the nation. The GOP’s presidential primary race legitimately risks nominating Donald Trump and descending into a parody. And now the Republican-controlled Congress is in total chaos. No one wants to be speaker (not even obvious savior Paul Ryan). All of this comes with the backdrop of a coming debt ceiling deadline in November that comes before another big budget vote in December.

What a mess. Could Republicans have imagined a more nightmarish series of political events a year out from a presidential election?


In a phone interview, Kevin McCarthy said he had thought about dropping out over the last week after the Benghazi gaffe, but figured, “I’d push through.” He realized he couldn’t. The House Freedom Caucus, whose members he’d need to pick off to get to 218 on the House floor, had gone into “lockdown” and “wanted things I couldn’t deliver.” He realized, “I wouldn’t have enjoyed being Speaker this way.” Also, he had begun to get calls over the weekend from members who were hearing complaints about him in their districts — a bad sign. “I didn’t want to put them through a tough vote,” he says. He considered floating an arrangement today where he’d ask members in the conference to vote the way they’d vote on the floor, and if he couldn’t get to 218, stepping aside. But instead he just made his shocking announcement. It’s not clear who will pick up the pieces. He says, “I personally want Paul Ryan.” There’s been some speculation about the necessity of a bi-partisan coalition to elect a new Speaker, which he rejects. “We’ll find a Republican.” How, no one knows at the moment. Asked if the House is governable, he says, “I don’t know. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom.”


McCarthy calls [his Benghazi comments] a “stumble” and says in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the backlash from House Republicans after the Hannity appearance was the first real indication that he would have a real fight for the speakership. He stayed in the race, but it became, in his words, an “uphill battle.” 

McCarthy went on to meet with the Freedom Caucus, a rump group of dissatisfied right-wing Republicans who had been behind the effort to oust John Boehner from the speaker’s chair. He made his pitch, but most of the caucus decided to back one of their own, Florida congressman Daniel Webster. That was about 30 or 40 votes—not enough to deny McCarthy the majority within the GOP conference, but plenty to deny him the majority in a floor vote with the entire House of Representatives.

“At the end of the day, maybe I could have won,” McCarthy tells me. But the risk of going to the floor without the votes was too high. McCarthy wouldn’t say when exactly he made the decision to drop out, only that it was “a day or two” before his surprise announcement Thursday…

“It’s the climate,” he says. “People are angry.”


“We need somebody to get us 247,” McCarthy said in an extensive interview with POLITICO Thursday, referring to the total number of House Republicans. “And I was never going to be able to get 247.”

The majority leader’s longtime allies — the people he recruited and helped get elected to Congress — told him they were getting hammered back home, and that it would be difficult to back him on the House floor…

Conservatives — namely members of the House Freedom Caucus — were making demands he believed he simply couldn’t deliver on

In the hours leading up to the party nominating contest, McCarthy concluded the job was not for him. Even if he could win, he’d be unable to move a must-pass debt ceiling increase. He figured he’d have an equally hard time shepherding through a critical spending deal.


One of the chief reasons McCarthy ultimately abandoned his bid were the rule changes demanded by a conservative group of members called the House Freedom Caucus, according to a source close to the majority leader. The changes would have significantly eroded the power of the speakership — making it much easier for members of groups like the Freedom Caucus to tie leadership and the chamber in knots, something McCarthy realized would make his life miserable and his job untenable.

“When he looked at it, it’s pretty much not worth the heartache,” this source said…

The problem with the place holder approach, some Republicans also said, is that most of the Freedom Caucus saw McCarthy as nothing more than a place holder himself. Even if McCarthy had given in to all of their demands for greater power and new restrictions on the power of the speaker, McCarthy was never going to be accepted by the most conservative members of the conference.

Additionally, even if McCarthy were to somehow keep conservatives in the fold initially, they would still end up rebelling. The Senate will still block conservative legislation and the president is still Barack Obama, and he still can veto anything that may get through the Senate. And for House Republicans, that means their frustrations with being unable to pass new deep spending cuts or abortion legislation or Obamacare repeal will remain, and all the changes in the world to House Rules wouldn’t change that.


McCarthy is in the middle of the House GOP ideologically. Of course, because the GOP as a whole has gotten much more conservative in recent years, that means McCarthy is quite conservative too. But the resistance to electing him speaker wasn’t just about ideology; McCarthy represents a Republican establishment less willing to threaten a government shutdown or refuse to raise the debt ceiling to achieve legislative goals. The split within the party is largely a disagreement over tactics…

Clearly, the members of the Freedom Caucus are on the more conservative side of the Republican Party. Notice, however, that its members also tend to be toward the bottom (or anti-establishment) portion of the chart. In fact, the correlation between Freedom Caucus membership and the two different dimensions are nearly equal — in other words, being in the Freedom Caucus is just as much about being anti-establishment as it is about being conservative…

The normal rules of politics seem to apply less to the Republican Party each passing day. Carson and Trump’s tenure atop the polls is evidence of that. Boehner came to realize it. And McCarthy apparently figured that out too.


Republicans may be forced to solicit Democratic help to break their Speaker stalemate, Rep. Charlie Dent (R) said Thursday…

“We may need a bipartisan coalition to elect our next Speaker,” Dent told reporters after Thursday’s closed-door GOP meeting. “That’s a very real possibility right now, and I think anybody who’s honest about this knows it. They may not want to talk about it, but they know it.”…

“Kevin had a strong majority of support in that room today. No question about it, he was going to walk out the winner,” Dent said. “[But] I don’t believe he had 218 votes. … The question was did he have 180, 190, 200 or 210? I don’t know what he had, but something in that range — 180 to 210. And I think what he was concerned about, and what we’ve all been concerned about is if we went to the House floor for a Speaker election and he failed to receive 218 votes, that would be very embarrassing and humiliating.


Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett pointed that many of those in the race simply couldn’t get the votes needed to win. “Is there a pretty conspicuous vacuum for now?” he asked.

“I think vacuum is putting it too nicely, Gregg,” Wallace responded. “It is complete chaos on Capitol Hill.”

“The Republican Party in the House is in complete chaos, complete disarray right now,” he continued. “And you would think, maybe not today but over the next couple of weeks, the pressure will be enormous to find somebody that everybody or at least 218 Republicans can agree on.”…

“All of these guys face reelection in a year,” Wallace noted. “They don’t want to go into an election indicating they can’t even govern themselves, let alone the country.”


But, those single-issue theories all miss the broader point here: There is a revolution happening within the Republican party right now. The establishment’s hold on power is more tenuous than it has been at any time in recent memory. There is no one currently in office that can claim with any credibility that he or she speaks “for” the party as a whole…

[T]he argument for McCarthy — when weighed against the anger and passion against the establishment coursing through the base — was feeble. The members like him! He texts them on their birthdays! He’s been to their districts! Dick Cheney endorsed him! None of that was a match for the fundamental belief — within the base and among Republican politicians trying to channel that base — that McCarthy was part of the problem, not the solution. He was doomed to have an ending like this — no matter the extenuating personal circumstances that may have also influenced the lack of support for him.

If you are Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or John Kasich, what happened on Thursday in Washington should put a lump in your throat…

This threat to the establishment from the conservative activist base is real.  The sooner the establishment realizes it — and the resignation of Boehner/demise of McCarthy should help them get it — the better chance they will have to combat it. But, I also think that the possibility exists that the establishment doesn’t have the ability to put down this revolution. Which is an amazing thing to ponder as the country gets ready to elect a new president in 13 months time.



Via RCP.


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