The Grapple for the Gavel
Inside the fight to deny Kevin McCarthy the speakership.
Kevin McCarthy stood behind the rostrum and raised the speaker’s gavel. Four days and fifteen votes that ultimately resulted in his election as speaker had left him with a smile that was part bewilderment, part exhaustion.
Bewilderment in that McCarthy’s mismanagement of Republicans’ efforts to retake the House meant he probably should not have been poised to hoist the gavel. In the 2022 midterms, McCarthy spent most of the House Republicans’ war chest on liberal Republican candidates and intentionally undercut more conservative alternatives. The end result was not 40 more Republican seats, as some McCarthy allies suggested, but a razor thin, four-seat majority.
Exhaustion in that a small number of Republicans, staunch conservatives such as Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, and Matt Gaetz of Florida saw McCarthy’s clear and abundant failures and sought to hold the Republican leader accountable. There would be no red carpet, no giving the speakership to McCarthy on a silver platter just because he’s the House GOP’s frontman. They would not allow a repeat of the last session’s failures, and rightly so. If McCarthy ever wanted to become Speaker of the House, he’d have to fiercely negotiate with his objectors, a group that came to be known as “the twenty,” and make concessions that have the potential to change the way Washington goes about its business and serve as a check on the speaker’s power.
And concessions they got. But Rep. Scott Perry, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, doesn’t think of the changes extracted from future Speaker McCarthy as concessions. “I see them as wins,” Perry told The American Conservative, “not only for the Republican conference, but for Congress, and, most importantly, for the little guy and gal out there that doesn’t ever come to Washington, D.C., and vote on the floor. These are wins for all of us.”
Before the Votes
The battle over how Republicans would govern in the House was brewing for a long time—long before the 2022 midterm elections.
During a recent appearance on American Moment’s Moment of Truth podcast, Congressman Bishop said that the House Freedom Caucus started discussing potential procedural changes for the House as early as May of 2022.
“We ended up developing a list of proposed rules changes by about late July, August,” Bishop said. In the sole meeting he had with McCarthy during that period, Bishop claimed McCarthy “was really kind of a little miffed that there was a set of proposed rules changes out, and he didn’t really want to entertain the substance of them. We had various people saying that we needed to concentrate on the election, and we didn’t need to be measuring the curtains…in the speaker’s office until we had that job done. But we didn’t see it that way. So it was a lengthy conversation, but it was a one-way conversation.”
Then the election happened. Republicans barely managed to squeak out a majority in the House. The hopes of a 50–50 Senate rested in the result of the Georgia runoff.
“Following the election, I had a telephone call with Kevin McCarthy,” Bishop said. “He called to say that when we were having leadership elections in the next week, we might spend a little bit of time…to discuss a few rules changes. And I said, Kevin, the circumstances, there’s been a cardinal change in circumstances, you surely realize that.”
The coming impasse “resulted in really just almost innumerable meetings, conversations, meetings of the entire conference, meetings of select groups cutting across the ideological spectrum within the Republican conference,” Bishop recounted on the podcast. “But not enough progress. Not fast enough.”
“What was most concerning to me as we got nearer January 3, the convening of the 118th Congress, was that there was no legislative policy strategy,” Bishop stated. “There had been the ‘Commitment to America’ that Leader McCarthy developed for purposes of campaigning, but it was vague. I mean, it had aspirational ideas, But it didn’t talk about which battles are we going to go to the mat for in this Congress. Not just to say, well, you know, we’re going to pass a lot of messaging bills, I hope you’ll be content with us and elect us again.”
But there was no agreement to be had. Between the midterm elections and the Republican conference leadership elections the following week, five members—Gaetz, Rep. Matthew Rosendale of Montana, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona—came out as “Never Kevins.”
A source close to the matter told TAC that the introduction of five Never Kevins was intentional. McCarthy could only withstand four no votes if he wanted to become speaker. The new year had not even begun, and there were five. Others have suggested that there were actually six Never Kevins but that the last one never came out publicly. The easy guess is freshman Arizona Rep. Eli Crane, who voted present on the final ballot with four others, but Crane told TAC in an interview, “I don’t classify myself as a Never Kevin. I classify myself as a representative and the root there is ‘represent.’ My job is to represent my voters. That’s exactly what I did, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do.”
Sources told TAC that the sixth Never Kevin was, in reality, any number of members. Other members in the conference were itching to come out as Never Kevins but were told to hold off so that the movement against McCarthy might grow as the speaker’s race began in earnest. If they could build up enough momentum, maybe other members would break ranks and call for change, too.
As negotiations fell apart, and McCarthy himself seemingly got more and more frustrated, McCarthy and his allies decided to play hardball. In a closed-door meeting of the Republican conference the morning of January 3, McCarthy reportedly yelled at Republican members, “I’ve earned this job,” followed by an expletive. Raucous cheers and boos followed.
I don’t classify myself as a Never Kevin. I classify myself as a representative and the root there is ‘represent.’ My job is to represent my voters. That’s exactly what I did, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do.
In the same meeting, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama reportedly suggested to the 222 Republican members that those who did not vote for McCarthy could lose their committee assignments. Upon hearing this threat, Roy asked McCarthy to deny this would be the case—a request McCarthy refused. “You just sealed your fate,” Roy reportedly said before abruptly leaving the meeting.
Crane told TAC he also “heard the threat,” but he “wasn’t too worried about it. I know this town is transactional. It’s what I expected when I got up here.” The freshman from Arizona was in the meeting for about 30 to 45 minutes before leaving. “I was like, I’ve heard enough of this stuff,” Crane said. “I’m not gonna subject myself to, you know, a bunch of bullying or whatever you want to call it, and I’ve got better ways to spend my day.”
In an interview with TAC, Bishop recalled the conference meeting:
Kevin essentially managed to almost create a mob that was nearly violent—I mean, they weren’t violent, but it was an extravagant condemnation of people for having views that, I think, are entirely legitimate. At one point, Chip Roy attempted to get up and speak to things, and at one point Scott Perry did, but they weren’t allowed the same opportunity to speak freely at the mic that others were. Kevin would engage, but then he’d dominate the conversation. It was just a reprehensible display.
“It was very tense. It was uncomfortable,” Perry said. “Literally one of the members told me as we passed each other that my presence disgusted him—just to kind of let you know the level of discord and discomfort at the meeting,” he continued. “I just kept smiling, and I went up to make my case, and nobody wanted to hear it. Everybody was yelling, everybody was telling me to shut up, sit down, whatever. I just kept a smile on my face and at some point kind of shrugged my shoulders.”
During the meeting, Bishop told TAC, McCarthy allegedly misrepresented a proposed deal devised by Gaetz that was given to McCarthy shortly before January 3. It was “a final and best offer that enough of the Never Kevins could support that he could get 218 votes for Kevin from the outset,” Bishop said. “There were some of us that had various misgivings about that package, but Kevin lied about what was in the package. He said that members had negotiated for themselves for committee spots and the like. That was a lie.”
“That atmosphere that Kevin engendered because he was angry,” Bishop believed, “made him not the right person to negotiate anything with. And I said that to Jim Jordan, in a conversation between the two of us and Perry.”
“Jim and I are friends, good friends, and we find a lot of agreement on things,” Perry told TAC. “It was one of those times where your even good friendships become strained, and it did become strained, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to characterize the exact contents of the conversation.”
The way the Republican conference meeting played out, for Perry, “affirmed for me everything that we had tried to do at that point, and everything that we were getting ready to do in the next couple of moments.”
“I will tell you that when we started casting votes on the third, my expectation was that Kevin wasn’t gonna make it, and that we would end up seeing somebody else emerge,” Bishop told TAC. If Bishop thought McCarthy had an uphill climb already, the road to the speaker’s rostrum had just got a lot steeper.
First Votes: Tuesday and Wednesday
In the first round of voting, nineteen Republicans voted against McCarthy, leaving the Republican from California fifteen votes short of the 218 he needed to become speaker. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who supported McCarthy’s bid, received six votes for speaker in round one. He implored members who voted for him to give their votes to McCarthy in round two during a nomination speech he gave for McCarthy.
But Gaetz had other plans. The Florida congressman nominated Jordan, and the nineteen McCarthy objectors coalesced behind Jordan. In round three, Roy gave an impassioned speech for Jordan’s nomination, acknowledging that Jordan did not want the job.
“Jim has said he doesn’t want that nomination, he’s been down here nominating Kevin, and I respect that,” Roy said. “Again, I have no personal animus toward Kevin. I have worked for the last two months to figure out how to make the rules to make this place better, and we’ve made progress but we do not have the tools to stop the swamp from rolling over people. Jim has been doing it and for those reasons I’m nominating Jim Jordan from Ohio for Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
After Roy’s speech, the dissenters picked up a vote. Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida switched from McCarthy to Jordan. The House adjourned until Wednesday at noon.
On the floor, Wednesday continued much the same as the day before. Bishop told TAC that throughout the day he believed McCarthy would eventually be forced to step aside.
The McCarthy objectors, now twenty strong, nominated Donalds against McCarthy for speaker. Rounds four, five, and six went by, and the only vote that changed was Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz, who started voting present after round four.
After three rounds of voting on Wednesday, the House adjourned to return at 8 p.m. that night. When the members returned, a vote to adjourn until noon Thursday passed by a vote of 216 to 212 with four members not voting.
Members filed out from the House chamber and shuffled into offices where negotiations were set to continue. Politico reported that McCarthy offered the twenty increased representation on the House Rules Committee and reopened negotiations on rules surrounding the motion to vacate and proposing amendments to legislation on the floor.
On Wednesday evening, “some things happened that were worrisome to me,” Bishop told TAC. “We had some fracturing in our group of twenty about what the right way forward was.”
In addition to the closed-door negotiations on the Hill, McCarthy’s political apparatus struck a deal with the massive conservative PAC Club for Growth. The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), the PAC essentially controlled by McCarthy via his position in leadership, agreed not to throw its weight around in open Republican primaries with safe Republican seats, in exchange for Club for Growth supporting McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
For conservative observers without up-to-date knowledge on the negotiations taking place at the time on Capitol Hill, this was a welcome development—more conservative candidates in GOP primaries would have better electoral chances.
But the deal struck between Club for Growth and the CLF undercut the twenty’s negotiating posture. “The objective [of the deal] we certainly shared,” Bishop said. “In fact, it was on our list of objectives, and we worked with Club for Growth and other groups in terms of trying to identify the things that were most important,” Bishop told TAC. “It’s not that I objected to getting it done. It was that we were in a very sensitive moment in which we’re trying to maintain maximum pressure for negotiating a broad range of terms that touch on multiple subject areas, and they just came out and announced that there was this agreement.”
“It undermined our negotiating posture,” Bishop recounted. “It really, sort of, cut our legs out from under us Wednesday evening.”
“I think I have to contextualize what I mean about the Club for Growth thing,” Bishop continued, still speaking candidly but treading carefully. “It just came at us. None of us were alerted to it ahead of time. It was a surprise to us. And for people to go out saying that something substantial had been resolved when we’re in here, kind of fighting it out over getting things—it was not helpful.” Bishop added that many of the twenty have since spoken with Club for Growth and reconciled.
The dealing on and off Capitol Hill “precipitated fractures within our group about how to move forward,” Bishop stated. “I don’t want to get into too much detail about that until that’s a little more stale, but suffice it to say we had some difficult conversations Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.”
“I’m just saying that Wednesday was sort of a low point in terms of where I thought we might get,” Bishop added.
The Deal: Thursday
Despite the fractures among the twenty, not a single one caved after five more rounds of voting on Thursday.
The establishment media was in a frenzy. They pinned all of the country’s woes on the twenty. They equated holding up the speaker’s election to January 6. The narrative did not have the desired effect.
Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, told TAC that, contra media narratives claiming Republican chaos was preventing the House from doing more important work, “this is what a race for speaker should look like.”
“Politics is about building a winning coalition, getting concessions from those in power, and ultimately wielding that power on behalf of the American people. The idea that deliberating who will be the next Speaker of the House for more than a few days would ‘delay important work’ during a period of divided government is just silly,” Schilling said.
When the House adjourned Thursday night after eleven total rounds of voting, McCarthy had less than nothing to show for four straight days of hard negotiating on the floor, not to mention the months of negotiating that preceded the start of the 118th Congress. Donalds flipped to join McCarthy’s objectors and refused to flop. Spartz was still voting present.
That all changed before the House reconvened Friday to vote for a twelfth time on who would become Speaker of the House.
In a closed door meeting with some of the twenty, McCarthy’s camp finally relented to most of the House Freedom Caucus members’ demands. Playing hardball early on had backfired. If McCarthy ever wanted to get his hands on that gavel—his primary political motivation since he felt it was more or less taken from him in 2015—he’d have to tuck tail and sell the farm.
So he did. McCarthy gave the House Freedom Caucus and other legislators the power they desired, power taken directly from the speaker’s position.
“Was I surprised that Kevin was prepared to deal? The answer, I think, is no,” Bishop told TAC. The negotiations from Wednesday evening to Friday morning produced, in Bishop’s words, “a wide-ranging agreement, both substantive and procedural, as well as personal.”
One of the primary demands was to allow a single lawmaker from the majority party to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” which could potentially oust McCarthy as speaker. The motion to vacate the chair was a longstanding tradition in the House before then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi scrapped the rule. McCarthy, with his experience working closely with former speaker John Boehner, knew how the rule was held over the speaker’s head by clamorous members.
The holdouts, however, argued that the immense power of the speaker’s office in recent decades meant that McCarthy could easily renege on any concession made to the group in the negotiation process.
Schilling sees the motion to vacate as the ultimate insurance policy. “McCarthy is going to keep his promises to everyone that resisted his speakership,” Schilling said. He may not want to, but he has to. “He has too slim of a majority to back away, and with the new motion to vacate rule that allows for any single member to call a vote to oust him, he’s got to play ball.”
Russ Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America and former director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Trump administration, sees the motion to vacate as a major enforcement mechanism, too. “Are you gonna go after Mary Miller and a primary? I think you now have a motion to vacate to go and enforce something like that. Are you going to be stripping people of their committees? I think you now have a motion to vacate,” Vought told TAC.
The reinstitution of the motion to vacate was central to making sure McCarthy kept his promises, and McCarthy was politically adept enough to know it. He had to cave.
Some of the other concessions made by McCarthy in that closed-door meeting remain vague, but the detractors were able to get three more major ones on top of the motion to vacate on Friday. The twenty negotiated more seats on the House Rules Committee, which has far reaching ramifications for how the Republican House will go about its business. Bishop called the Rules Committee “the funnel for all legislation getting onto the floor.”
Vought explained the ramifications of more conservative representation on the House Rules Committee. “Every major bill that comes to the floor has its own rules,” Vought told TAC. “What was agreed to was that there would be at least three hardcore conservatives on the Rules Committee, making it therefore independent. That is an enormous transformation of the House, and it’s one that I think will pay huge dividends so that the promises made on policy are not going to be just promises anymore. The very members who agreed to this will be the ones that are enforcing the terms of the deal based on what goes to the floor and what major amendments are adopted.”
“Previously, the speaker had an expectation that anyone that he selected for the Rules Committee would just do whatever he decided,” Vought continued. “There’s now a specific understanding that those members, Chip Roy, Thomas Massie, and Ralph Norman in particular, are going to be ensuring that the interests of conservatives are going to be considered for the various rules.”
When discussing the beefed up presence of conservatives on the Rules Committee, Bishop said it’s “something that you’ve got to be very careful with because that’s the kind of thing that people will lie about and suggest that people are looking out for themselves and getting themselves plum committee assignments.”
“Let me tell you, there’s no worse misery on earth than being on the Rules Committee,” Bishop said with a chuckle.
It might be a miserable assignment, but “if you don’t understand procedure, you’re gonna get screwed every time,” Vought claimed. It’s a key insight the twenty understood, according to Vought. Through increased representation on the Rules Committee, the twenty ensured “a power sharing agreement that allowed them to be able to impact every single bill that comes to the floor” and forced McCarthy to pay close attention to his right flank moving forward.
“I really believe it’s a paradigm shift,” Vought added.
Bishop called it an “extraordinary change.” The Rules Committee “is often called the Speaker’s Committee, and it is no longer the Speaker’s Committee. It is an independent Rules Committee. It is an independent place where there will be an imposition of discipline in terms of what comes to the floor. And it is a means of enforcement of the agreements that we’ve reached.”
The twenty also demanded that bills be posted for at least 72 hours before coming up for votes, and that the House consider a constitutional amendment for federal term limits.
Let me tell you, there’s no worse misery on earth than being on the Rules Committee.
Some members of the Republican caucus were realizing in real time that the concessions the twenty were getting from McCarthy and his allies in these negotiations had the potential to make real change in the House. At an event celebrating the twenty’s effort hosted by FreedomWorks on February 1, Boebert told those gathered that “a lot of our colleagues were coming up and whispering in our ears saying, ‘Hey, keep going. You guys are doing great. I wish I could be with you on this.’”
The additional concessions, items that McCarthy’s objectors seemed to think they’d never be able to get, convinced fourteen of the twenty holdouts to flip their votes. In the twelfth vote, thirteen Republican representatives—Bishop, Brecheen, Cloud, Clyde, Donalds, Gosar, Luna, Miller, Norman, Ogles, Perry, Roy, and Self—changed their votes from other candidates to McCarthy. So did Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz, who had been voting present since round four.
Two-hundred and fifteen. Not enough. In the thirteenth round, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland changed his vote to McCarthy, too, making 216—two votes away.
The Never Kevins: Friday
Getting two votes from Gaetz, Biggs, Boebert, Good, or Rosendale, the five public “Never Kevins,” seemed impossible. Gaetz at one point suggested he’d rather be waterboarded than vote for McCarthy as speaker. But if McCarthy could strike one last deal and have the holdouts vote present, it would lower the vote threshold enough to win the speakership.
And just because many of McCarthy’s objectors decided to vote for McCarthy after the concessions they got between Thursday and Friday did not mean the six remaining objectors were without their allies’ moral support.
Bishop, during his Moment of Truth podcast interview, extended “enormous kudos to those five” who came out and said they would never vote for McCarthy. “It was a very brave thing to do. They were pounded on from the beginning. I was spared that because I didn’t take that step. Their courage made it possible for the group that turned out to be twenty, ultimately, to get going, to get prepared.”
Despite the fractures that persisted among the twenty who objected to McCarthy’s bid, “I’m very proud of the work that we all did together,” Bishop said. “But at the very tail end, it was the same five really, or six—there was one who made it six who was also in that camp but did not say so publicly,” that continued to object to McCarthy. Without those Never Kevin members coming out publicly, Bishop wonders if the whole effort would have folded. “My hat’s off to the five or six, notwithstanding that I didn’t think that was exactly the position to be in. Their courage speaks for itself.”
Roy also credited the five public Never Kevins for the success of the twenty. The twenty “would never have been able to do what we did but for Bob Good, Andy Biggs, Matt Rosendale, Ralph Norman, and Matt Gaetz being willing to be the five who went out and said they were a no,” Roy said at the Freedomworks event on February 1. “That gave us a lot of runway for us to be able to go figure out how to work together. We stayed together as a team, and we stayed together as a team all the way through the end.”
The House moved toward its fourteenth vote around 10 p.m. on Friday. The rumor flying around the House floor was that McCarthy had won over the last few objectors he needed. But that wasn’t the case. As the clerk began to call the names in alphabetical order for the roll call vote, Gaetz told McCarthy’s deputy chief of staff for floor operations John Leganski that the House needed to adjourn. Gaetz said that the plan was to have the remaining six holdouts all vote present, which would avoid putting a single member of the six at fault for giving McCarthy the final vote he needed to become speaker. But this new gang of six were not all on board.
Gaetz said he needed until Monday. Leganski retorted that family emergencies for some Republican representatives meant it was likely not all 222 members of the caucus would be in attendance. Texas Rep. Roger William would be by his wife’s side as she received treatment for a recently discovered brain tumor. Another Texas congressman, Wesley Hunt, would also likely be with his wife. She was experiencing medical issues in the wake of giving birth prematurely.
Gaetz, one of the key leaders of the McCarthy objectors because of his vociferous opposition to McCarthy’s bid from the start, was not going to be the single vote that dragged McCarthy over the line. He voted present, as did Boebert, but Biggs, Crane, Good, and Rosendale voted for other candidates. McCarthy was still one vote short.
Then came the most memorable moment from the five day ordeal. McCarthy rose, and with a few siff strides made his way over to Gaetz. His face was stern, annoyed. He got to the row where Gaetz sat and folded his hands on the dark wood that topped the pew. “Matt, come on,” McCarthy said, an anonymous source told Politico. “You’ve made your point. People have to go home.”
The eyes of every member and staffer in the chamber were fixated on the coming showdown.
Gaetz responded, finger wagging somewhere toward the front right of the chamber, his eyes darted back and forth from where he was pointing to the long-faced McCarthy. He told McCarthy the fourteenth vote likely wouldn’t have been a failure if the House had adjourned. McCarthy leaned in, looking drained as ever, and appeared to speak more softly to Gaetz, who had several members, including Boebert, between himself and the Republican leader. Gaetz’s sharp features pointed right back at McCarthy. His body language did not mirror what appeared to be McCarthy’s new softness. McCarthy leaned back and addressed Gaetz and Boebert in the minute that followed.
Leganski soon came to McCarthy’s side. Gaetz, whose forward lean and intensified gesturing suggested he was on the attack, gave his final word to McCarthy. McCarthy replied, tapped the wooden railing he had propped himself up against, took a step, and reengaged Gaetz, who continued speaking with intense gesticulation. McCarthy hung his head and walked swiftly but stiffly away.
As McCarthy left, Rogers stampeded onto the scene and charged Gaetz with a finger wag, prompting Rep. Richard Hudson to physically restrain Rogers by awkwardly grabbing his shoulder with one hand and covering Rogers’s mouth and then eyes with the other.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, an ally of McCarthy, moved to adjourn the House until Monday, and with an inconclusive voice vote, the electronic voting process gave McCarthy time to negotiate for the last vote with the remaining holdouts. Because Republicans were unsure how many members would be in session come Monday, it was a risky move. McCarthy and his whips had to find something that could placate Gaetz and his allies. McHenry ran through the concessions Gaetz’s side had already procured and asked what else McCarthy could give him to get all six to vote present and put an end to the debacle.
It appears there was not a key final concession that got the four final McCarthy objectors across the line. Rather it was a realization that the deal on the table was a good deal and the movement against McCarthy would not regain momentum.
“When there were four of us left, we knew that we could not win,” Crane told TAC. “We’ve been steadily losing momentum. We already had what we felt like was a very good deal for the American people. We felt like we’d also sent a very clear message to leadership that there were some folks in this new 118th Congress that were willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the American people and fight to the end.”
“We felt like we’ve done what we could do,” Crane added. “We were ready to move on.”
When McCarthy was finally able to hoist the gavel, it didn’t carry the same weight it had just a week prior when it was in Pelosi’s hands.
The twenty racked up so many concessions—wins—throughout that explosive first week of the 118th Congress, it’s almost difficult to keep them straight. There were plenty of rule changes, “but it is not just about the rules,” Bishop told TAC. “It’s an agreement on the broad terms of the most important things we will do this Congress.”
McCarthy vowed to create a committee to investigate the weaponization of the federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies against American citizens. He promised to give members more opportunities to offer amendments on the House floor and restore the Holman rule, a Reconstruction-era rule that was scrapped in 1983, which allows amendments to appropriations legislation to cut certain programs or the salary of certain federal employees, if not outright fire them. He pledged to cap discretionary spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, and promised that a negotiated increase in the debt ceiling must also be accompanied by spending cuts. Also, appropriations bills would be considered separately, rather than rolled together in one omnibus bill dropped in the dead of night.
This was the start of a concrete legislative agenda that Bishop had been begging McCarthy for since the beginning of the negotiation process. “The agreement on fiscal restraint specified that we will return to regular order, we will pass a budget that balances within 10 years, we will limit fiscal year ’24 discretionary spending to fiscal year ’22 levels—that provides room for the hawks to get more defense funding, but it requires correspondingly a reduction in other discretionary spending. We agreed on the subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government. I consider that to be more needed than the Church Committee was needed in 1975, and it was a very important point to me. We agreed on a number of pieces of legislation that will receive a vote on the floor: the term limits bill, the Texas border plan, the fair tax.” Bishop’s excitement built with each item he listed.
“The weaponization committee is something that I fought very, very hard for,” Perry told TAC. “It wasn’t set up exactly how I envisioned it, but it is very clear to many Americans that the awesome power of the federal government is being weaponized against average citizens. The fact that we have a committee solely dedicated to that effort is huge.”
The twenty also received or retained positions on powerful House committees. Bishop, Gaetz, Roy, Biggs, and “present” voter Victoria Spartz will continue to serve on the House Judiciary Committee. Illinois Rep. Mary Miller also kept her assignment on the Agriculture Committee.
Conservative Republicans were also able to deepen their bench with the addition of some freshman members who held out against McCarthy. Perry kept his seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and will be joined by freshman Rep. Keith Self of Texas. South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman also retained his committee assignment on the Financial Services Committee, with the addition of another conservative, freshman Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee.
What’s more, Reps. Mike Cloud of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, and Andy Harris of Maryland have been named members of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Freshmen Reps. Crane and Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma won seats for the Freedom Caucus-aligned conservatives on the Homeland Security Committee.
Gosar and Boebert have been given seats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee that will launch several investigations into the Biden administration and, potentially, President Joe Biden’s family. The pair will also have seats on the National Resources Committee with fellow McCarthy detractors freshman Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida and Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana. Rep. Bob Good of Virginia will sit on the Education and Labor Committee, as well as the Budget Committee.
The big winner of these committee assignments is Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who went from pro- to anti-McCarthy after the second round and became the nominee for the McCarthy detractors for eight consecutive rounds of voting. Donalds was given the title of “speaker’s designee” on the House Steering Committee, which helps determine committee assignments, and won a seat on the Financial Services Committee.
McCarthy gained the gavel, and his right flank got all the above and likely more—these are just the concessions and deals that have been made public.
Russ Vought was one of McCarthy’s most vocal opponents outside of government. Though McCarthy ended up becoming speaker, Vought was pleased with the concessions McCarthy’s objectors were able to get. “We wanted a paradigm-shifting speaker, we wanted a paradigm-shifting result in the way that the House is run. And we got the latter, in my view, because the only person wanting to be speaker bad enough was willing to give those concessions,” Vought told TAC.
Schilling seems to agree. “There were a lot of great changes made to how the House operates, but from a bigger picture, the fight over the speaker’s gavel helped chip away at the phony era of ‘orderly’ politics that has wreaked havoc on average Americans and their families,” Schilling said in an email. “The biggest threat posed by Republicans is their refusal to fight over almost anything—spending, transgender sports, abortion, name the issue and Republicans almost always think the solution is to avoid conflict. Conflict is necessary for getting good policies passed and that's why this fight was important.”
For conservative Americans across the country, Crane hopes the key takeaway from the speaker’s battle is that “the Freedom Caucus and the conservative wing of this party is very outnumbered here.”
“When we’re at the peak of our strength, we had 20 people, and they had over 200. So we were outnumbered ten to one,” Crane continued. “For a guy like me that comes from the military and Special Forces, I kind of see this as guerrilla warfare. You’re never gonna beat the establishment head-to-head, right? You just don't have the firepower. You don’t have the numbers. But you get done what you can get done. You try to extract the best deal you can for the American people, nd you live to fight another day. That’s exactly what we did.”
Now that committees are mostly seated and the House is delving into its usual business, Vought said, “I think that Kevin is doing a good job post this agreement. I think he’s trying to lean into it.”
He praised McCarthy for taking major changes to Social Security and Medicare off the table, as well as “aligning any budget deal with the debt limit.” In Vought’s mind, this “is exactly what you would do if you’re trying to lead, instead of trying to lose. My complaint with most leadership teams has been they just play to lose, and they don’t play to take risks and accomplish what they have promised voters or their members. So, so far, so good. A lot of work to do.”
Schilling also believes McCarthy has shifted to the right to appease his detractors. “McCarthy is calling out traitors and frauds like Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to the mainstream press. Contrast that with former Speaker John Boehner who was just in the Capitol a few weeks prior literally crying over how much respect he has for Nancy Pelosi of all people. McCarthy appears battle-tested and ready to fight—another benefit of contentious fights like what we just witnessed.”
As McCarthy has leaned into the power-sharing agreement he struck with more conservative members of the caucus, so too will Vought and his allies. “We’re going to encourage Kevin McCarthy to be a historic speaker by being someone that ceded power and as a result became more powerful and was able to accomplish more on behalf of the American people, and provide a roadmap for not just himself but future speakers,” Vought said.
In his interview with TAC, Crane also wished McCarthy the best. “This is not personal at all. I wish Kevin McCarthy success. I hope he continues to do a good job because at the end of the day, this isn’t about Eli Crane; it’s not about Kevin McCarthy. This is about the American people, the disconnect between this town and what they want and expect.”
“I don’t know which of all those things are going to endure,” Perry admitted to TAC. “Obviously we’ll defend them during this session, and if we can maintain them for some kind of perpetuity so that they become more commonplace, I think you’ll see a change in the status quo over time that is more representative of working Americans who just feel like Washington, D.C., doesn’t even hear them.”
“If we can protect them and use them appropriately, we’re going to have long-lasting positive effects for the American people,” said Perry.
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Roy told those gathered at Freedomworks on February 1, “We have to go win now. Otherwise, we own the mess that we don’t win.”
“I’m going to be speaking to Republican groups soon,” Bishop told TAC. “I had in my mind that maybe I should say, ‘Sorry we couldn’t deal with all this before we convene.’ But actually, you know, I’m going to say instead, ‘Sorry, not sorry.’”
“I don’t believe that should happen in every Congress, and it has only happened a handful of times throughout our history,” Bishop continued. “But I actually think that Americans have become accustomed to seeing Congress do the opposite of what it should do. That the time that people should actually be outraged is when eighteen Republican senators send that $1.7 trillion omnibus through the day or two before Christmas, right? And we’ve gotten so accustomed to that, that outrage is dead. So I think it was a restorative, cathartic experience.”