- Kevin McCarthy was elected president Friday night after a week of disarray and 15 ballots.
- The battle for the speaker has exposed new divisions within the party’s far right.
- Thanks to the events of the past week, McCarthy may struggle to handle the slim GOP majority.
What would have been the House GOP’s first week back in the majority since 2018 turned into a chaotic, days-long battle over who would lead the chamber in the 118th Congress.
After a wild Friday night in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally won the presidency after 15 ballots in which a hardline faction of 20 Republicans refused to vote for him until he made a number of concessions. The extent of those concessions wasn’t 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 American politics, told Insider.
For years, the GOP has been increasingly divided into MAGA-type lawmakers — essentially staunch supporters of former President Donald Trump — and those more willing to oppose or distance themselves from the former president.
But the battle of speakers has shown these MAGA lawmakers are more divided among themselves than ever before, suggesting the bloc may be more unpredictable to the new Congress than it previously seemed – which could make McCarthy’s job of navigating a small majority much more difficult.
The Divided “Trumpy Tribe”
“Factions within parties are normal,” Kosar said. “If we didn’t have factions within the parties, it would be a bit scary.”
He pointed to MAGA lawmakers who often oppose the Republican establishment, but also progressive Democrats, like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, who have also argued and made demands of their leadership.
However, MAGA representatives, many of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus, have almost without exception united around similar causes, usually taking the position of Trump himself. These lawmakers include Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, among others.
They were among Republicans to take some of Trump’s most extreme views, including false claims of widespread fraud about the 2020 presidential election, and all voted to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021.
But in the battle of House Speakers this week, some of them found themselves on opposite sides, even after their future leader, Trump, took a stand.
“Trump himself is screaming that people should support McCarthy and guess what, you’ve got 20 people ignoring him,” Kosar said, adding that it’s safe to say the “Trumpy tribe” of people in the House actually diminished “because they divided among 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 Freedom Caucus members, including Boebert and Perry, excluded her from negotiations with McCarthy.
“Do you know why I’m upset? Because Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry walked into Kevin McCarthy’s office last night and made their own personal inquiries about subcommittee chairs. who they want to have, and who they want on committees, and who they want to take off committees,” she said Tuesday. “And guess what? The Freedom Caucus chair didn’t negotiate anything for me.
Jordan also stood behind McCarthy, pitting him against Perry, his close ally. “These guys were brothers in arms. Not anymore. Not on this topic,” Kosar said.
Many were watching to see if Trump’s intervention would sway votes, but when he endorsed McCarthy on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to side with the Californian, the 20 resisters did not budge, indicating that Trump’s own influence decreases in the MAGA wing of the party.
Navigate the divisions with a narrow majority
McCarthy won the presidency by making concessions to hardline Republicans who opposed him. Reports, including from Bloomberg and Politico, have said those concessions could include a cap on government spending and a framework of House rules that would diminish the power of the president and give more power to individual members.
For example, McCarthy reportedly agreed to a rule change to expand members’ rights to “motion to leave the chair,” which would essentially allow a single lawmaker to force a chamber-wide vote of “no confidence” for the president.
With such a slim majority over Democrats — 222-213 — McCarthy will need the support of almost everyone in his party to pass legislation. This means that although MAGA lawmakers represent a relatively small percentage of the Republican conference, McCarthy will need at least some of their support.
With new divisions and animosities exposed after the House Speakers’ battle, it’s unclear how well McCarthy will be able to do just that.
“How many sore heads will there be once this is settled? How many negative feelings have rubbed off on those who went to the mat on either side of this?” Kosar told Insider this week ahead of Friday’s final vote.
“And how is that going to play into the GOP’s ability to build majorities and cooperate, and pull the team together and forget about the past? That’s an open question.”