It turns out that the imperiled Long Island fabulist George Santos might not be the only conference member that Kevin McCarthy risks losing this term. The new House Speaker, who must navigate a razor-thin majority in which he can currently only lose four votes to pass partisan legislation, has another unforeseen problem on his horizon. Multiple members have told me that they are worried that Vern Buchanan, the 71-year-old from Florida, is loose in the saddle and contemplating retirement after losing his chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means committee this week. Buchanan told McCarthy he was furious that he was passed over for a much younger member, Rep. Jason Smith, who has become a bit of a speaker’s pet.
The McCarthy-Buchanan standoff is fascinating and multi-layered. On the one hand, Buchanan doesn’t need to kiss McCarthy’s ring. He’s one of the wealthiest members of congress, with a car dealership fortune worth more than $100 million. He can do whatever he wants, including reciprocating McCarthy’s political surprise with one of his own, which has some speculating that Buchanan could step down within months. Even under the best circumstances, in which Ron DeSantis immediately called a special election, McCarthy would be out a crucial vote for a couple months, maybe more. (Buchanan’s political advisor Max Goodman told me, “Vern has no plans to retire and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of his district and the American people.”)
Buchanan’s vote matters, but so does his ego. No one wants to alienate a deep-pocketed reliable fundraiser, who could be valuable outside of Congress. Furthermore, Buchanan isn’t a rash person, and he’s also incentivized to cooperate with the party. After all, his son, James Buchanan, a Florida state legislator, has been primed for his seat.