(CNN) — Chaos returns to rule in America.
Two years after the master of political chaos, former President Donald Trump, left Washington in disgrace, the Republicans have finally regained some power.
But they still don’t know how to use it correctly.
After weeks of pledging to hold US President Joe Biden to account, the House’s new Republican majority arrived in Washington on Tuesday, quickly failing at its most basic task: choosing a leader to run the House. A revolt by ultra-hardliners on an already hardline caucus humiliated Kevin McCarthy, and the California lawmaker saw his decades-long dream of wielding the majority’s mallet dashed, at least for now.
Trump, who is partly to blame for the debacle after contributing to a smaller-than-expected House Republican majority after his self-serving interventions in the midterms, called on Wednesday to endorse McCarthy.
“Republicans, don’t turn a big win into a big, embarrassing loss,” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform in all caps, saying McCarthy would do a good and “maybe even a great job.”
Many of the rebels are among Trump’s strongest supporters, and McCarthy spoke to Trump late Tuesday amid signs his support was beginning to wane.
Even Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, better known for espousing conspiracy theories than stable government, complained that the GOP was frustrating her own goals “because 19 Republicans decided to blow up the (House) speaker’s race )”. (Greene endorses McCarthy.)
McCarthy became the first candidate in a century to fail on a first ballot for Speaker of the House of Representatives. Most strikingly, the voting deadlock means Republicans can’t even take over the control they won in the midterms, as a new House can’t yet be sworn in.
The extraordinary scenes in the plenary session of the Chamber
On a surreal day, the 118th Congress opened with Republicans fighting Republicans, while Democrats, who should have been mourning the loss of a majority, were elated by the Republican circus they beheld.
“Hakeem, Hakeem,” the Democrats chanted as their new leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who outvoted McCarthy in the first three roll-call votes of the new House that the GOP is supposed to control, even though Jeffries he also came up short in voting to get a majority of 218.
At one point, firebrand Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a hero of the right, stood up to nominate McCarthy for leader, but 19 representatives voted off him, voting that Jordan should have the top job he insists he shouldn’t. wants. (Jordan is more interested in lacerating Biden’s appointees as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.)
It was an all-day debacle, in which McCarthy seemed to have no other strategy than to run into a wall, and ended with the House in absurd limbo. The smartly dressed relatives who traveled to Washington to see their new legislators proudly sworn in were bored and disappointed. The Chamber adjourned the session that was due to resume this Wednesday at noon, although there are few signs that the deadlock will be broken.
“I didn’t think we were going to be more productive going on with the day,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday night. But he insisted that he would not drop out of the House presidential race.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said, adding, “We only need 11 more votes to win,” implying that he thinks he can get multiple members to vote present, which would lower the threshold he would need.
The conclusions of a surreal day in the Chamber
The outlook will become clearer this Wednesday as the fourth ballot approaches. But here are some takeaways from this Tuesday’s drama:
— The GOP civil war, which erupted with the Tea Party backlash against the Obama administration, is far from over. He was responsible for the departures of Republican House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner, and was put into overdrive by Trump. And as soon as the party smelled power again, that fight erupted openly as the radicals seek to destroy a party establishment that has already shifted to the far right to appease them.
— Even if McCarthy prevails, he will be a weak majority leader who may be in office but barely in power. The Californian had weeks to gather his majority. Either he miscounted the votes or he has no control over his caucus. Neither scenario is likely to lead to a majority that effectively turns its fire on the Democrats and the White House and can build a strong case for voters for the 2024 election. If the Republicans cannot come together in an easy vote to elect House leader, how will you come together on tough ones, like on government spending bills?
— There is no winning over political arsonists. Leadership sources say McCarthy offered multiple concessions to Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona and other members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, including undermining the majority leader’s ability to cling to power. But they refused, making it clear that it is as much about personalities as it is about ideology. They mark McCarthy as a sellout, the biggest alligator in the Washington “swamp” they will never trust.
“Maybe the right person to be the Speaker of the House is not someone who has sold his own stock for more than a decade to get it,” Gaetz said in the courtroom on Tuesday in a cutting jab at McCarthy, who was sitting a few feet away. away.
— McCarthy must have something to offer the rebels to win their votes. They scorn big commission seats and don’t dream of passing exclusive bills. They don’t care that the majority of the House GOP wants McCarthy. For them, as it was for Trump, chaos is the point. Taking on the “swamp” books them on conservative talk shows, boosts their fundraising and polishes their MAGA (Make America Great Again) credentials, former President Donald Trump’s hardline politician.
Former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, who voted to impeach Trump, lost a primary to a rival backed by the former president, and then lost the general election to a Democrat, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday that the rebels were in it alone.
“It’s just drama. … They have this outsized platform,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
— The slim Republican majority, meaning McCarthy could only afford to lose four votes for leader, will dominate the 118th Congress. This not only gave hardliners the opportunity to hold McCarthy hostage in the leadership race; it will mean that, at any time, the House can be closed by a few votes. This is not just a concern for the eventual Speaker of the House. The White House should be concerned, too, given the impending clashes over government budgets and raising the debt ceiling.
Ironically, McCarthy may be the only one to blame. By quickly embracing Trump after initially criticizing him for the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill, he irrevocably linked his party’s midterm election campaign to Trump’s reputation. But many voters felt alienated by the former president’s voter denial and managed to win McCarthy a much smaller and unworkable House majority than he had hoped.
— One interpretation of the midterms was that voters, exhausted by the turbulence of the Trump years and a once-in-a-century pandemic, raised a cry for stability and calm and were therefore unwilling to surrender all available power. Back to the Republicans in November. (While they failed to achieve a red wave in the House, the Republican Party failed to recapture the Senate, and the Democrats increased their majority.) The scenes in the House on Tuesday were not what those voters had in mind in November.
— And the Democrats are already trying to cash in on it politically., vindicating his claims that the Republicans are not yet fit for power and should be ousted at the earliest opportunity in the next election. “I just watched House Republicans descend into total chaos on the House floor,” Jeffries told Democratic donors in a fundraising email. “This changes everything for Democrats. Now we have a great opportunity to step in and show what we can do.”
“The 20 Taliban”
If anything, McCarthy grew weaker with each roll call, even as a senior Republican source told CNN he would never back down and “we’re going to war.” Some members of the Republican Party now refer to the rebels as “the chaos caucus” or “The Taliban 20,” CNN’s Manu Raju reported.
But one lawmaker who opposed McCarthy, South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, vowed he would keep fighting for “six months” if necessary to thwart the Californian’s bid for House speaker. Despite the harsh talk, McCarthy, who has settled prematurely in the Majority Leader’s office suite, is facing painful realities. They include the question of whether his candidacy is doomed, since it seems impossible that he can win over the handful of toughest objectors. On Tuesday night, some Republicans appeared to be toying with the possibility that another candidate might emerge, after the House was turned into a farce and his party was made a laughing stock.
But the chances of a compromise election that could unite the far-right and more moderate members who won Biden’s districts seem remote.
McCarthy will have another chance this Wednesday to show that he can control his party and finally bring some order to the new Republican majority, even if the way forward remains elusive. Perhaps a day of infighting will convince all Republicans that they risk wasting their majority.
“We have an agenda and we want to implement that agenda and we can be the caucus that gets together to do that or we can let a select few prevent us from doing it,” Utah Republican Rep. Blake Moore told CNN on Tuesday, arguing that McCarthy had managed to get his party back to power in the House.
“You don’t take out a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter,” he added.
But after his triple defeat in votes for House speaker on Tuesday, McCarthy must now prove that it’s not three strikes and he’s out.