McCarthy Aftershocks & the Texas Plot

kevin mccarthy
Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images
Abby Livingston
October 4, 2023

If there is one maxim that has proven unshakably true on Capitol Hill over the last fifteen years, it’s that for every action there is an opposite and escalated reaction. And so it will be fascinating to see exactly what follows Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry’s brusque eviction of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer from their Capitol hideaways. Think things are petty now? Brace yourselves.

Even Republicans felt like the decision was reactive and unnecessary—although one operative I spoke with said the Democrats should have lost the space at the outset of the new Congress. A non-D.C. Republican texted me: “Need video of people vacating their Capitol hideaways set to ‘Layla’…” referencing the Goodfellas bloodbath montage.

Another timely movie reference came my way shortly after, when a non-D.C. Republican operative with close Hill ties wondered if Matt Gaetz truly thought he could take down McCarthy. This source compared him to Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate, when he asks, “What do we do now?” 

Campaign Aftershocks

It hardly bears repeating, but Kevin McCarthy had many, many weaknesses as speaker. But he was also indisputably the most active political animal in this generation’s House G.O.P. conference. He was an active recruiter, strategist, mentor, and fundraiser, and nobody in the conference demonstrated his level of interest or work ethic when it came to electing House members. So what happens now that this force has been neutralized?

I’m wary of drawing sweeping conclusions about how this present chaos will impact the House races next year. (Most analysts say the fight for the majority is a pure tossup, if not slightly leaning toward Democrats.) Of course, when John Boehner resigned in 2015, Republicans were concerned that his exit would destabilize the N.R.C.C. and the G.O.P.-aligned super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund. But then Paul Ryan ascended to the speakership, and raised even more money than Boehner. The problem for the House G.O.P. is that they’ve burned through all of their Paul Ryans.

What I’m most immediately curious about is how the last stretch of House G.O.P. recruitment goes. This early October window is usually the last opportunity for candidates to declare their bids for competitive seats—and the recruits were watching Tuesday’s spectacle, just like the rest of us. 

The Speaker Shortlist

Meanwhile, a herd of House Republicans trekked to a Texas Republican delegation meeting today to make their pitch for leadership roles, including Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, and Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern, who are in the hunt for the speakership. There was also Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who’s after the majority leader slot that Scalise may vacate, and Guy Reschenthaler who’s looking at Emmer’s current role as majority whip.