“Terrorists”, “Taliban” … The story of the Republican civil war around Kevin McCarthy

From our correspondent in California,

Two days, six ballots, and a “House” still without “Speaker”. The civil war that is tearing the Republican Party apart for elect Kevin McCarthy at the perch of the House of Representatives continued on Wednesday, with around twenty elected officials categorically rejecting a candidate yet supported by Donald Trump. Each faction camped on its positions, and the tone rose, until a chaotic suspension of the session in the evening, pending a new vote Thursday at noon (6 p.m., Paris time).

After Tuesday’s blockage, Donald Trump tries to whistle the end of recess on Truth Social, Wednesday morning. “Time to vote for Kevin and close the deal. Don’t turn a great triumph into an embarrassing defeat. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a SUPER job,” encourages the former president, entrenched for the winter under the Florida sun, in his Mar-a-Lago residence.

But his influence on the Republican Party may be coming to an end. “Sad! (“sad”), trolls Matt Gaetz, one of the leaders of the sling, in a deliberately Trumpian style. Confirmation at 1 p.m. for the 4th round of voting: none of the 20 rebels on Tuesday changed their vote in favor of Kevin McCarthy. They are voting this time for Florida Representative Byron Donalds, stressing that it is “historic” to have two African-American candidates, with Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.

Kevin McCarthy is stubborn and loses a vote in the 4th round, with an elected Republican who decides to vote “present”.

Kevin McCarthy has dreamed of becoming a Speaker since 2015.
Kevin McCarthy has dreamed of becoming Speaker since 2015. – Getty Images via AFP

Alcohol, popcorn and “suicide bombers”

In the 5th round, it was Lauren Boebert, narrowly re-elected in November in Colorado, who again appointed Byron Donalds. She denounces the pressure of her “favorite president”. And recommends him to call Kevin McCarthy to tell him “You don’t have the votes, it’s time to give up”. But McCarthy refuses and plays the wear, without success. The 5th round gives the same result, with the Democrats uniting around Jeffries. Dropped by 21 Republicans, McCarthy finished with 201 votes, far from the majority’s 218.

An elected Republican then speaks and accuses Democrats of reveling in the spectacle by “eating popcorn and drinking alcohol”. “There are no rules” in the absence of Speaker, shouts a member of the opposition. After a 6th round without change, the elected officials close the session until 8 p.m.

During the negotiations, elected Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan, denounced in an interview the coup by 20 “terrorists” whom he then described as “suicide bombers”. The day before, his colleague Don Bacon had dubbed them the “20 Taliban”.

“I will never vote for” McCarthy

To understand this blockage, you have to go back 15 years, to the era of the Tea Party. Anti-establishment populist elected officials ready to blow everything up arrive in the Chamber, refusing any compromise, in particular on the debt ceiling, even if it means causing a “shutdown” of the federal state. The movement did not last but gave birth in 2015 to the Freedom caucus, a parliamentary group of ten elected officials co-founded by Jim Jordan, Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows – these two would then become Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

The founding principle of the group: opposition to Republican Speaker at the time, John Boehner. Who threw in the towel at the end of 2015, calling the Freedom caucus “legislative terrorists” and “anarchists who want chaos”. Kevin McCarthy is seen as his natural successor, but the band rejects him. He withdraws his candidacy after a gaffe, and it is finally Paul Ryan who plays the providential men and seizes the hammer.

With a current Republican majority of just four seats, the Freedom Caucus, which now has about 40 members, has never had so much power, and it is split over McCarthy. The Californian representative has crawled in recent weeks, offering them multiple concessions, with committee positions and reinstating a rule allowing a motion to be tabled to try to eject a Speaker with only five elected. But the slingers want to lower the threshold to just one elected official, as was the case with an ancient rule that has rarely been used. And after another meeting, Matt Gaetz said he was ready to “vote all week, all month, but never for” McCarthy.

A chaotic advance and suspension of the session

While the horizon seemed more blocked than ever for McCarthy, an upturn could take shape. An influential Republican establishment political action committee, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has pledged to remain neutral in future primaries, giving anti-system candidates a chance. In exchange, the Club for Growth, an organization that has funded elected officials opposing McCarthy, has pledged to support him, which could, in theory, get him six more votes. That wouldn’t be enough – he would need ten more – but would give him some “momentum”.

Welcoming “progress”, Kevin McCarthy and his allies then asked that the meeting be suspended until Thursday noon. The vote, this time electronic, was played at the photo finish, with an elected official running in the Chamber to write her answer on a paper ballot. And while the “no” was going to win, the rebellious Paul Gosar changed his vote to “yes”, allowing everyone to go home to rest. The clock is ticking: the Chamber cannot function without a Speaker, and parliamentary employees will not be paid from January 13. In 1923, the vote had gone to the 9th round. In 1856, the chaos had lasted two months.

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