Not long ago, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was courting Reps. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., in the multi-day speaker’s election. The California Republican finally flipped those lawmakers and prevailed on the 15th ballot to be elected House speaker.
It’s unclear who McCarthy may try to court next. But what McCarthy might pursue is normalcy in the House so Republicans can govern in their new majority. The looming clash over the debt ceiling may award McCarthy an opportunity to find accord in politics. Even with President Biden.
The duo will have to get together in some form on the debt ceiling sooner or later. But it’s unclear if McCarthy may try to use this juncture to govern.
The president and the speaker had one in-person meeting a few weeks ago. That didn’t really count as negotiating — yet. It’s best described as they were “talking about something” in respect to the debt ceiling — even though Biden said he wouldn’t negotiate.
McCarthy could seek a compromise on some sort of spending package. But it’s unclear how this is going to turn out. McCarthy clasped the speaker’s gavel in the wee hours of Saturday morning, January 7. It was the wildest speaker’s election since 1859. McCarthy is now forced to govern. The right may abhor the policies of President Biden and Democrats, but the president and congressional Democrats ran the table in 2021 – advancing nearly every component of their legislative agenda. Sometimes they even did it on a bipartisan basis.
There was the $2 trillion COVID bill Democrats approved in March 2021 on their own. There was the bipartisan infrastructure bill. A bipartisan measure to produce computer chips and fight back against China. There were no government shutdowns. Lawmakers approved a bipartisan measure to assist veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. The sides even crafted a modest agreement to expand some background checks and increase access to mental health after a spate of mass shootings.
It’s far from clear what President Biden and McCarthy can ever conjure up when it comes to the debt limit, not to mention the goal of averting a government shutdown this fall. But a nearly ebullient McCarthy departed the White House conclave with a measured skip in his step.
“There’s no agreement. But I left this meeting with a better perspective than I had walking into the meeting,” said McCarthy. “I felt as though we were honest with one another. There are times where we were far apart. But we’re not.”
That doesn’t sound like the customary fire and brimstone rhetoric which rains down from many House Republicans these days.
McCarthy could try to set a tone for governing. Especially ahead of a few topsy-turvy months concerning the debt ceiling. No one’s rattled yet. All it could take is a market shock to spark panic. The Treasury Department says the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling in early June. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts the date falls later in the summer. No one truly knows. But that’s why some wonder about courting calm.
“I would feel better if I (were) the markets based on the meeting I had today (with the President),” said McCarthy after the White House session.
Not all House Republicans crave political tranquility. The GOP base — and certainly those aligned with former President Trump — regularly sow chaos. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., recently tangled with Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., at the first meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee over a proposal to bar lawmakers from bringing firearms into the panel’s hearing room.Boebert then charged that Huffman was “wasting time on political stunts.”
During a debate on the House floor, Boebert lampooned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“In western Colorado, we call that a fun weekend,” quipped Boebert of the ATF.
McCarthy went out of his way to embrace Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and restore her committee assignments after Democrats bounced Greene from panels in 2021. However, McCarthy found himself shushing Greene when she hectored President Biden during his State of the Union address last month. Greene was again in the spotlight when she called for “a national divorce” and asked for red and blue states to separate.
At her first hearing before the House Oversight Committee, Greene argued that the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) violated the “civil rights” of rioters when they laid siege to the Capitol two years ago. Greene also took up the cause of Ashli Babbitt who U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Byrd shot and killed when she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor in the middle of the Jan. 6 riot.
The U.S. Capitol Police and Washington, D.C. prosecutors cleared Byrd. The USCP’s Office of Professional Responsibility says Byrd acted properly since he was authorized to use lethal force “when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life including the officer’s own life or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury.”
Greene’s position forced McCarthy to wade back into the Jan. 6 milieu.
“I think the police officer did his job,” answered McCarthy when asked by reporters if he agreed with Greene’s suggestion that Byrd murdered Babbitt.
We haven’t even mentioned the headaches posed for House Republicans by Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., and his long list of lies, fabrications and fables. Boebert, Greene, Santos and a few other controversial House Republicans generate most of the press coverage on Capitol Hill these days. The gripping, contentious election for speaker set the tone for what the public expects from the GOP majority. That’s augmented by anything that is outlandish, provocative or fiery from brash voices in the Republican Conference.
Republicans try to mitigate turmoil with oversight hearings and discussion about policies which the public cares about. The border. Fentanyl. China. Inflation. The cost of eggs. Crime. But it’s far from clear that those efforts resonate more with the public than the customary Republican invective.
That’s why some may hope for a modicum of congressional serenity. Polling data after the 2022 midterm elections suggested that voters rejected chaos fueled by candidates aligned with former President Trump. That’s one reason Republicans failed to capture the Senate and partly why the GOP made only minimal gains in the House. Some handicappers expected the party to flip up to 50 seats.
So as McCarthy enters his second month in the Speakership, he faces a challenge of governing. President Biden’s poll numbers are weak. A Fox News poll found that only 36% of all voters embraced the way Biden handled the economy. A mere 31% supported his approach to inflation. The President’s overall job performance rating clocked in at 44%. That’s down three points from January of last year. It marked a full 10 point decline for the president since April 2021.
Nothing great there. But perception of the GOP’s most-extreme ideologies don’t help Republicans with middle-of-the-road voters who are exhausted by mayhem. Unfortunately for the GOP, bedlam could be on full display this summer and fall if there is a brawl over raising the debt ceiling or a potential government shutdown.
The midterms revealed that voters desire order. Not tumult.
Republicans campaigned in 2022 that if voters awarded them the House, they would see action.
So far, they’ve seen drama in the Speaker’s race election and hyperbolic rhetoric from rank-and-file Republicans.
The only way Republicans can govern is to lower the temperature and deliver results.