- Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker on Friday night after a week of disarray and 15 rounds of voting.
- The battle for the speaker revealed new divisions among the hard right wing of the party.
- Thanks to the events of the past week, McCarthy may struggle to hold on to the slim majority in the GOP.
What would have 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 finally won the floor after 15 rounds of voting in which a hardline faction of 20 Republicans refused to vote for him until he made a series 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.
The GOP for years has been increasingly divided into MAGA-type lawmakers — essentially devoted supporters of former President Donald Trump — and those more willing to oppose or distance themselves from the former president.
But the speaker race showed that MAGA lawmakers are more divided than ever before, suggesting that the bloc may be more unpredictable in the new Congress than previously appeared — which could make McCarthy’s job of navigating a narrow majority much more difficult more difficult.
The ‘Trumpy tribe’ split
“Factions within parties are normal,” Kosar said. “If we didn’t have factions within parties, it would be a bit scary.”
He pointed to the MAGA lawmakers who often take on the Republican establishment, but also to the progressive Democrats, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, who have sparred with and made demands for their leadership as well.
However, MAGA representatives, many of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus, have almost invariably united around similar causes, and have typically adopted 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.
They were among the Republicans who embraced some of Trump’s most extreme views, including the false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and all voted to overturn the January 6, 2021 election results.
But during the House race this week, some of them found themselves on opposite sides, even after their incoming leader, Trump, took a stand.
“Trump himself is yelling that people should get behind McCarthy and guess what, you’ve got 20 people just ignoring him,” Kosar said, adding that one could argue that the “Trumpy tribe” of people in the House has actually shrunk” because they are divided among themselves.”
Longtime allies Greene and Gaetz were in direct opposition, and she stood 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.
“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 and who they want have on committees, and who they want off committees,” she said Tuesday. “And guess what? The chairman of the Freedom Caucus didn’t negotiate anything for me.”
Jordan also stood behind McCarthy, pitting him against Perry, his close ally. “These guys used to be brothers in arms. Not anymore. Not on this subject,” Kosar said.
Many were watching to see if Trump’s input would sway votes, but when he endorsed McCarthy on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to rally behind the Californian, the 20 holdouts did not budge, indicating that Trump’s own influence is waning in The MAGA wing of the party.
Navigating the divisions by a slim majority
McCarthy won the podium by making concessions to the hard-line Republicans who opposed him. Reports, including from Bloomberg and Politico, have said those concessions could include a government spending cap and a framework for House rules that would reduce the speaker’s power and give more power to individual members.
For example, McCarthy was said to have agreed to a rule change to expand members’ rights to “motions to remove the leader,” which would essentially allow a single lawmaker to force a full-chamber “no confidence” vote on the speaker.
With such a narrow majority over Democrats — 222-213 — McCarthy will need the support of nearly every member of his party to pass legislation. This means that even though 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 race, 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 the wrong way from those who went to the mat on either 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 a majority and work together, and pull the team together and let the past go? That’s an open question.”