There is one unmistakable takeaway from Kevin McCarthy losing his fourth and fifth and sixth straight votes for speaker yesterday:
Donald Trump couldn’t help him one bit.
The former president may be the most influential voice in the GOP, and on Truth Social he urged House Republicans to “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY…DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT…Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB – JUST WATCH!”
The result: 20 Republican rebels voted against McCarthy yesterday, the same number that kept the long-sought gavel out of his hands on Tuesday’s third ballot. Trump could not convince a single member to switch.
This is not just idle speculation. Trump has been key to McCarthy’s bid for the speakership. When McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago for a fence-mending visit after Jan. 6, it was to get Trump’s support for the job he has wanted for years.
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Most of those blocking McCarthy’s ascent backed Trump’s unproven claims of a stolen election, or said during the campaign that they would have. Still, they may view this as an internal matter – it’s certainly personal against McCarthy – and therefore resistant to pressure even from the ex-POTUS.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a leader of the dissidents, called Trump “my favorite president” on the floor, but also said he should tell McCarthy to withdraw.
I honestly think that most Americans are in the wake-me-when-it’s-over camp. That’s because the House – whose members are not sworn in and can’t do anything during this impasse – is not debating some grand issue that touches people’s lives. It’s more about who gets to wield power.
If you like parliamentary maneuvering and far-fetched scenarios, you might have had a good time. There was media chatter that the Democrats might bail out the GOP by backing a consensus candidate. The Dems quickly threw cold water on that notion.
The contrast with President Biden, meanwhile, could not be greater. Though the event was planned in advance, Biden appeared with Mitch McConnell in Kentucky yesterday to celebrate the replacement of a crumbling bridge under the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Other top Democrats and Republicans were invited. Biden and McConnell (who the rebels also view as a swamp creature) understand each other.
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Asked about the Republican paralysis before he left Washington, the president said “that’s not my problem,” adding: “I just think it’s a little embarrassing that it’s taking so long.”
Later he said this was “not a good look” for the United States and “I hope they get their act together.”
The rebels have shown discipline. Since McCarthy’s vote slide means that Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, is getting more votes than him, the dissidents chose to spotlight an African-American congressman, Byron Donalds of Florida.
The 20 who had previously backed Jim Jordan – who’s supporting McCarthy– promptly switched their votes to Donalds.
If the Republicans have this much trouble coalescing around a speaker, what will they do when they’re facing a possible default or other crisis legislation? Just as they needed merely five votes to checkmate McCarthy, or to strip him of the post if he became speaker, these five – or any five with a grievance – can again block action against an overwhelming majority of the party.
In an ominous sign for the pro-Kevin forces, Rep. Victoria Spartz changed her vote to “present” on the fifth ballot and told CNN she will not vote for McCarthy again.
Since this has been shaping up as a contest of embarrassment – which side would blink first? – let me toss out this media question.
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The cable news networks have provided near-constant coverage of the speakership battle. By yesterday, as the predictable tallies did not budge, anchors and reporters started talking over the proceedings with whatever insights they could offer.
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If this gets to a 15th or 25th ballot, and the proceedings are no longer covered live or reduced to a small box at the bottom of the screen, does that help or hurt Kevin McCarthy’s bid?