If you listened to Progress Pondcast Episode 4: Boneheads & Bigots, you know that I predicted that a coalition would emerge in the House of Representatives that is willing to fund the government and pay our bills on time. And you also know that I predicted that Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, if he chose to be the leader of such a coalition, would immediately cease being the leader of the Republicans in the House.
In truth, I began predicting this before McCarthy even won the speakership and wondered why he wanted the job in the first place. Throughout the year, I’ve laid out all the reasons why we would inevitably arrive at this place and also what I thought the Democrats should do when we got here.
Before I review, however, where are we right now?
Speaker McCarthy gave up control of his own Rules Committee as a condition of becoming Speaker. He can’t bring bills to the floor without the consent of some hardline MAGA members he agreed to put on the Rules Committee. But, wait, that’s not true is it? He just brought a bill to floor without their consent yesterday, and it funds the government for 45 days. So, how did that happen?
Well, the bill bypassed the Rules Committee because it was brought under a suspension of the rules, which meant it could only pass with a two-thirds supermajority. That meant he needed Democratic votes, and a lot of them. In the end, 209 of the 210 Democrats who cast votes, voted in favor of McCarthy’s continuing resolution which avoided a government shutdown at the last second before the money ran out at the end of September. Among Republicans, the vote was 126-90, meaning that about 40 percent of McCarthy’s caucus voted against his bill.
So, now we can clearly see the true functional majority in the House, and it has more Democrats than Republicans. For the moment, McCarthy’s new coalition is heavily bipartisan and tilted significantly to the left. This is a problem.
“You can’t form a coalition of more Democrats than you have Republicans who you’re supposed to be the leader of, and not think that there’s going to be serious, serious fallout,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said. He confirmed that after Saturday’s spending vote, they would start discussions about ousting the speaker.
If you think about it, though, the Speaker is elected by a vote of the whole House, not just members of his or her own party. McCarthy isn’t “supposed” to be the leader of the Republicans and his position isn’t called Speaker of the Republicans. But Rep. Rosendale is correct that this is an unusual situation. The governing coalition isn’t partisan at all, and therefore the power-sharing in the House shouldn’t be partisan either.
Unsurprisingly, there are many Republicans who don’t think McCarthy acted as party leader and want to oust him from that position, but they’re also a bit confused. They are going to make a motion to vacate the chair, which is a term for trying to remove the Speaker of the House from power. The Republicans are free to choose a new leader, but the Democrats have a say over who serves as Speaker.
This is particularly true because the Republicans are divided, and most support McCarthy. When a vote comes on whether McCarthy remains Speaker, the result will turn on what the Democrats do. They could save McCarthy by joining with his supporters in the Republican caucus, but they have little reason to go that route unless McCarthy recognizes that they make up the larger half of the functional governing coalition that funds the government and pays its bills on time.
Back in 2015, Speaker John Boehner faced the same choice and chose to retire rather than seek Democratic support and make the concessions that would go along with that. McCarthy, however, looks like he intends to continue, which means he will have to go hat in hand to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the House Democrats.
What should Jeffries demand?
Well, for starters, funding for Ukraine. That money was stripped out of the continuing resolution despite having support in both chambers of Congress. Secondly, an end to the impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden, which is a naked sham and pet project of people now outside the governing coalition. Third, some representation in power, which means at a minimum, a reshuffling of the committees with at least a few chairs going to the Democrats. Fourth, probably a seat at the table in the House leadership, meaning that Jeffries or some other designee would become House Majority Leader or House Majority Whip.
If these terms are too onerous, then McCarthy can lose his gavel and the functional majority can negotiate a new Speaker and new committee and leadership arrangements among themselves.
When I suggested this be done prior to the vote for Speaker in January, I mentioned that it would almost certainly not happen until a crisis hit, either over the debt ceiling in May or when the money ran out at the end of September. It probably seemed like an insane proposal to most of you, but it was dictated by math. Because there was no red wave in the midterm elections, there never was a functional partisan Republican majority to do the basics, pay our bills and fund the government, and so it was inevitable that a partisan Speaker would fail. I thought a lot of pain could be avoided by acknowledging this up front, but it is being acknowledged now.
My only concern is that the Democrats fail to drive a hard bargain and win the power they clearly deserve.