The McCarthy Mystery & G.O.P. Family Therapy

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mandel via AFP
Tina Nguyen
June 8, 2023

Among the many plot twists and all the made-for-television drama surrounding the multi-day speakership election of Kevin McCarthy, perhaps the greatest drama has been the enduring mystery of what the dexterous Republican promised to the 20ish conservative members who repeatedly blocked his path to acquiring the House gavel. Indeed, the private handshake deal that led to their acceptance of his speakership was so secretive that it was never committed to paper. Even members of McCarthy’s own leadership team remain in the dark.

Of course, the McCarthy mystery was renewed this week when 11 angry Republicans, several of whom had blocked his speakership, voted to bring all House business to a halt, presumably in protest of the debt ceiling bill that McCarthy negotiated and passed without their support last week. On Wednesday, McCarthy conceded that nothing would get done until their grievances could be addressed, telling the media that his conference would essentially adjourn until Monday. “There’s a little chaos going on,” he said.

The precise cause of this latest recalcitrance remains unclear. Perhaps it had something to do with Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s No. 2, ostensibly threatening to block a gun-related bill written by Rep. Andrew Clyde, a member of the so-called Taliban 20, if he didn’t vote to pass the debt limit package. Scalise, for his part, told Punchbowl that he had been misinterpreted, tossing the hot potato of blame to McCarthy. “Whatever commitments were made, [the conservatives] felt like he misled them, and broke promises,” said Scalise, who remained a curious foil during the endless negotiations in January.