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The Taliban 20’s McCarthy Red Line

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
June 1, 2023

Back in January, when he was forced to dole out gifts and dangle committee assignments to the 21 Republicans blocking his path to the House Speakership, Kevin McCarthy looked as if he had traded real power for a lofty title. McCarthy, after all, eventually won the gavel, but only after handing his opponents a giant red detonation trigger known as the Motion to Vacate clause—a procedural move that would allow any aggrieved conference member to initiate a vote of no confidence. As I reported at the time, and in the months since, McCarthy had essentially made himself a hostage of the far-right—the Taliban 20, as the insurgent group was called—a potentially untenable situation that seemed doomed to unravel as soon as McCarthy faced a real test, such as negotiating a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

And yet, surprisingly, over the past week or so, McCarthy succinctly neutered his opposition, winning over former enemies and passing a remarkably moderate, down-the-middle spending bill with an overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats. Jim Jordan, the McCarthy rival who was supported by the 20 for the speakership, whipped support for the bill. Thomas Massie, a libertarian debt-clock obsessive who could have spiked the deal, waved it through committee. Even Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most far-right members of the caucus, has become an unlikely ally: “Republicans have huge wins in this fight,” she tweeted on Wednesday, celebrating the package.