McCarthy’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

House And Senate Convene For The 118th Congress On Capitol Hill
From conversations with allies of the 19 initial “no” votes, their opposition to Kevin McCarthy is about more than just wrangling concessions. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Tina Nguyen
January 5, 2023

In the weeks leading up to January 3rd, the first day of the new Congress, a small clique of far right hardliners within the House Freedom Caucus—the majority of them freshmen, backbenchers, and members still waiting to be sworn in—were quietly, furiously reading up on the chamber’s arcane rules. They took meetings with the Office of the Parliamentarian, peppering the House’s resident expert with questions about which procedures to abide by on the floor, past precedents to thwart a speakership election, and what sort of motions they could call to grind Kevin McCarthy’s political future into dust. “I guarantee you,” a strategist close to their efforts told me, “that each of those 20 knows vastly more about House procedure than your typical non-leadership, middle-of-the-road member of the Republican conference.”

Their efforts and discussions went largely unnoticed by the press or their peers. Most of the media attention, after all, centered on the five “Never Kevin” hardliners who had stated publicly that they wouldn’t vote for McCarthy under any circumstances. Given the G.O.P.’s razor-thin margin in the House, McCarthy could only afford to lose four votes, but the five seemed small enough to break, or to peel off with symbolic concessions, and McCarthy’s allies were certain that they could reach 218 “ayes” within two rounds of votes.

Of course, as my partner Tara Palmeri has been reporting, there was always a larger, silent bloc of House Republicans sympathetic to the Never Kevin cause. While the likes of Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert drew all the fire with their political antics, another dozen-plus refuseniks—including Scott Perry, Chip Roy, and Dan Bishop, among others—were building their numbers, circulating letters outlining their demands, and strategizing behind the scenes. “I was honestly shocked that none of [our meetings] leaked afterwards, just because when you work with the Freedom Caucus, you always expect things to leak,” a source with knowledge of the negotiations told me.