The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans defend messy speaker fight as House readies for business

House Republicans on Jan. 8 said negotiations over the House speaker would unify the conference, even as they expressed disagreements over key priorities. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
5 min

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Rep. Nancy Mace (R) as a congresswoman from North Carolina. She is from South Carolina. This story has been corrected.

Several Republican hard-liners in Congress vowed Sunday to keep up divisive tactics when the new Congress begins work in earnest this week after a four-day standoff over House speaker last week exposed deep rifts within the GOP.

“Are we going to have this kind of conflict going forward? I hope so,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ultimately prevailed early Saturday in his bid for House speaker in the 15th round of voting, but only after conceding to a wide range of ever-increasing demands sought by about 20 hard-liners in his party. Parts of that deal — some details of which have not yet been made public — will be put to the test Monday when the House votes on a package of rules.

“This was about empowering people — empowering rank-and-file members,” said Roy, who voted against McCarthy 11 times before supporting him in the final rounds.

He pointed to the concessions won, such as allowing a minimum of 72 hours from the time legislation is introduced to when it can be voted on, and capping federal spending at 2022 levels. Holdouts also sought to increase the number of House Freedom Caucus members on key committees.

How Kevin McCarthy survived the GOP revolt to become House speaker

Appearing after Roy on CNN, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), who supported McCarthy through each round of voting, said he approved of many of the changes that Roy and his allies sought. “The new rules and the way of doing business is good,” he said.

But Crenshaw said the way critics extracted those concessions hurt the speaker and the party.

“There was no reason for us to keep voting and keep voting” and allow Republicans to make speeches that “degraded and just diminished and insulted Kevin McCarthy,” Crenshaw said. “... This could have been done without all the drama.”

Among the tough battles Congress will face this year will be the fight to raise the debt ceiling, which is the statutory limit on how much the U.S. government can borrow to pay its bills. The ceiling is expected to be hit this summer or fall. If it isn’t raised, the country will default on its debt, which many economists fear would set off a global fiscal calamity.

House GOP readies for fiscal showdowns

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Sunday that “Congress is going to need to raise the debt limit without, without conditions.”

Some Republicans are expected to insist on severe budget cuts on defense spending and entitlement programs before they agree to raise the debt ceiling. Such a confrontation could be a big test of whether McCarthy is able to hang onto power. As part of the concessions, just one member of the House could attempt to replace the speaker by introducing a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially a no-confidence vote.

Roy was noncommittal on what circumstances the House Freedom Caucus would consider necessary to seek such a vote. “We will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreement,” he said.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who supported McCarthy in every round of voting, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expects a hard-right Republican to eventually challenge McCarthy with such a motion. “I’m not convinced we can go the entire Congress without having it,” Comer said.

How Kevin McCarthy survived the GOP revolt to become House speaker

Other Republicans signaled uneasiness about the deal McCarthy struck. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “you can’t let the insurgency caucus take hold and dictate.”

Gonzales said he intends to vote against the rules package because he worries that the plan to cap spending would lead to billions of dollars in cuts from the defense budget.

“If this insurgency caucus decides to put anti-immigrant legislation on the floor and masquerade as border security policy, that’s not going to fly,” he said. “And I will do everything in my power to make sure that type of legislation fails on the floor.”

Among the most dramatic moments during the speaker fight came at the conclusion of the 14th round of voting Friday night, when Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) stormed over and leaned angrily toward Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the final holdouts. Rogers had to be restrained by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who put his hand over Rogers’s mouth and led him away.

Roy defended even such chaotic scenes, saying the American people got to see pushback against power brokers.

“When you push back on the swamp, the swamp’s going to push right back. We saw that on display. That’s okay,” Roy said.

Gaetz, who entered Congress in 2017, has become one of the Republican Party’s most polarizing figures. He has amassed millions of followers across various social media platforms. He also has ingratiated himself with grass-roots supporters — and antagonized colleagues — with complaints about Washington and establishment figures.

“Matt Gaetz is a fraud,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding: “Every time he voted against Kevin McCarthy last week, he sent out a fundraising email.” (The Wall Street Journal reported that McCarthy’s opponents have their own online campaign funding apparatus unconnected to the national party.)

House Democrats argued Sunday that Republicans are still in disarray and that their priorities are out of sync with those of most Americans.

“The dysfunction that was historic that we saw this week is not at an end. It’s just the beginning,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “I’m very, very troubled by the way the Congress has started, and hopefully that doesn’t portend for what’s to come.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) dismissed Republicans’ talk about improving how the House functions, calling it “a smokescreen.” She said on CNN: “They are going to use the debt ceiling as leverage to take American seniors hostage.”

Karen DeYoung and Sabrina Malhi contributed to this report.

Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House

The vote: The House elected Kevin McCarthy after days of defeats and concessions to win over hard-line Republicans. See how each of the House members voted in all 15 ballots.

A dramatic finish: After multiple ballots over four days (the longest House speaker vote in history took two months and 133 votes), the House turned into a near-brawl late Friday after a 14th round of voting failed. See the remarkable near-confrontation on the House floor.

Kevin McCarthy’s concessions: McCarthy made several concessions in an attempt to win over 20 Republicans who voted against his candidacy. In the end, these were the remaining six holdouts McCarthy needed to persuade. Here are the concessions that could become flash points.