(Headline USA) After an epic 15-ballot election to become House speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy faces his next big test in governing a robust, slim majority: passing a rules package to govern the House.
The drafting and approval of a set of rules is normally a fairly routine legislative affair, but in these times, it’s the next showdown for the embattled McCarthy.
To become speaker and win over skeptics, McCarthy had to make concessions to a group of lawmakers representing a fundamental challenge to change an entrenched D.C. establishment that puts its own self-interests above the constituents they allegedly serve.
Now those promises — or at least some of them — are being put into writing to be voted on when lawmakers return this week for their first votes as the majority party.
On Sunday, at least two moderate Republicans expressed their reservations about supporting the rules package, citing what they described as secret deals and the disproportionate power potentially being handed out to a group of 20 conservatives.
The concessions included limits on McCarthy’s power, such as by allowing a single lawmaker to initiate a vote to remove him as speaker and curtailing government spending, which could include defense cuts. Removing a speaker would involve a long, arduous process that could cause McCarthy serious headaches, even if he survived. They also give the conservative Freedom Caucus a fairer representation of seats on the committee that decides which legislation reaches the House floor.
They also raise questions about whether McCarthy can garner enough support from Republicans, who hold a 222-212 edge, on a critical vote in the coming months to allow more prolific government spending and raise the debt limit, given conservatives’ demand that there also be significant spending cuts, over opposition from the White House and a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., a strong McCarthy supporter, said she currently is “on the fence” about the proposed rules.
“I like the rules package,” Mace said, in reference to what has been released publicly. “What I don’t support is a small number of people trying to get a deal done or deals done for themselves in private, in secret.”
She said it will be hard to get anything done in the House if a small band is given a stronger hand compared with the larger number of moderates. “I am concerned that commonsense legislation will not get through to get a vote on the floor,” she said.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, was an outright “no” against the rules package, decrying an “insurgency caucus” that he said would cut defense spending and push extremist legislation, such as on immigration.
Democrats are expected to be united against the package.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the Freedom Caucus who is expected to lead the House Judiciary Committee, defended the concessions McCarthy made and said he believes the rules package will get enough Republican support to pass. He insisted that the agreements will help ensure broader representation on committees and will curtail unfettered government spending.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” he said Sunday, but “I think we’ll get the 218 votes needed to pass the rules package.”
In the coming months, Congress will have to work to raise the debt limit before the government reaches its borrowing cap or face a devastating default on payments, including those for Social Security, military troops and federal benefits such as food assistance. Lawmakers will also have to fund federal agencies and programs for the next budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
The White House has rejected Republican calls to slash spending in return for an increase in the federal government’s borrowing authority. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre went so far on Sunday as to call House Republicans’ likely demands “hostage taking” that would risk default, an event that could trigger an economic crisis.
Jordan argued that “everything has to be on the table” when it comes to spending cuts, including in defense, in light of the government’s $32 trillion debt. “Frankly we better look at the money we send to Ukraine as well and say, how can we best spend the money to protect America?” he said.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of the 20 who initially voted against McCarthy before throwing his support behind the Californian, said he and other conservatives will be holding their position that there should be spending cuts in a debt ceiling bill. Asked whether he would exercise members’ new authority and unilaterally initiate a vote to remove the speaker if McCarthy doesn’t ultimately agree, Roy offered a warning.
“I’m not going to play the ‘what if’ games on how we’re going to use the tools of the House to make sure that we enforce the terms of the agreement, but we will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreement,” Roy said.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press