Kevin McCarthy’s Permanent Crisis

kevin mccarthy
This morning, the Republican conference voted on rules changes that their leader, Kevin McCarthy, agreed to in his pyrrhic quest to become Speaker of the House. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
January 10, 2023

Want to know how Washington really works? On Sunday morning, Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, fresh off last week’s Speakership debacle, went on one of the Sunday morning shows and said that it wasn’t just Ukraine spending that he and his comrades had their eyes on. It was all defense spending. “We got a $32 trillion debt,” he said. “Everything has to be on the table.” 

He went on to explain what he meant, which didn’t really reassure anybody. “The ratio of general officers to enlisted individuals now is so out of whack from where it used to be in our military,” Jordan said. “Maybe if would focus on that, helping the troops who do so much the work out there for our great country, and maybe focus on getting rid of all the woke policies in our military, we would have the money we need to make sure our troops get the pay raise they deserve, we’d have the weapon systems and the training that needs to be done so we are ready to deal with our adversaries on the planet. That is what we want to focus on.”

By Monday morning, the Wall Street Journal had a panicky editorial on the matter, and #ThisTown was off to the races. The U.S. defense budget now stands at $1.01 trillion—yes, with a t—which is nearly 13 percent of the entire U.S. federal budget. If that was now truly on the chopping block, as one of the rebel leaders claimed it was, what in the hell did that mean? (One Democratic national security insider vented, “They are saying fewer generals and more troops, less woke indoctrination—what the fuck are you even talking about?!”) Also, would they really do it? Could they really do it? And if so, how? And, given the state of the world, was now really a good time to pick that fight?