The GOP’s Chaos Caucus Returns

House Republicans say they want to drain the swamp and save America, but they can’t even get through Day 1 without a display of dysfunction. Stipulated, Rep.

Kevin McCarthy

isn’t everyone’s ideal of a conservative Speaker. But he has led the House GOP since 2019, raised oodles of money for November’s midterms, and easily won a leadership vote last year, 188-31.

Yet when the House gathered to organize itself Tuesday, a rump Republican faction blocked Mr. McCarthy’s elevation as Speaker. After the first roll call, Democratic Rep.

Hakeem Jeffries

had 212 votes. Mr. McCarthy had 203. Nineteen Republicans named somebody else. With no majority winner (218 votes), the leadership race went to multiple ballots, a spectacle that hasn’t been witnessed since 1923. By our deadline, the House had adjourned after voting three times but with little movement in the numbers.

Voters elected a Republican House to check the Biden Administration, investigate the anarchy at the southern border, and pressure Democrats on spending, inflation and energy production. Some of Mr. McCarthy’s doubters see him as too ideologically flexible. But if the GOP could stick together the way that Democrats did after 2020 (and with an equally small majority), almost any Speaker could provide the electorate what it ordered, along with a clear choice in 2024.

More than a few Republicans, alas, have a history of preferring combative sound bites to actual governing, and the fiasco Tuesday is an ominous sign of old habits being reasserted. The GOP’s House majority is historically narrow, 222-212. Democrats still hold the Senate and the White House. Add those two facts together, and the reality is that conservative policy victories over the next two years will necessarily involve negotiating for half a loaf.

What’s so unclear about this? One puzzling document was a list of demands for Mr. McCarthy posted by Rep.

Scott Perry,

who leads the Freedom Caucus. He wants guaranteed votes on a balanced budget and “term limits for Members of Congress,” plus a pledge that “all amendments to cut spending would be allowed floor consideration,” plus a promise that Mr. McCarthy would stay neutral in open GOP primaries. Rep.

Ralph Norman

hinted Mr. McCarthy could earn his vote for Speaker with a plan to balance the budget in seven years.

Symbolic votes have their uses, and debates and floor votes over spending will be important to have. They would show the differences between the parties, especially after the Senate GOP spending of the last two years. But the burden of political leadership is doing this in a way that unites Republicans and passes the House with a GOP majority. Without 218 Republican votes in the House, Republicans will have no leverage to negotiate with a Democratic Senate and White House no matter who is Speaker.

Mr. McCarthy made many concessions to his critics, including a rule that would let a mere five dissatisfied Members force a vote on deposing him as Speaker. This unfortunate concession is one reason to wonder about him as Speaker because it will weaken his ability to enforce consensus and discipline on the hard votes to come—such as raising the federal debt limit.

But the GOP chaos caucus didn’t want to take yes for an answer. A few Republicans revel in making messes, including Rep.

Matt Gaetz.

According to Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Gaetz declared that he didn’t care if Mr. Jeffries ended up elected as a Democratic Speaker of a Republican House. This kind of peacock politics doesn’t serve Mr. Gaetz’s Florida constituents.

Mr. Gaetz wanted to elect Ohio Rep.

Jim Jordan

as Speaker. Yet Mr. Jordan gave a rousing speech to nominate Mr. McCarthy. “I think Kevin McCarthy is the right guy to lead us,” Mr. Jordan said, before urging his conservative House colleagues to “rally around him.” Also backing Mr. McCarthy are President Trump and Sen.

Mitch McConnell,

which is like getting endorsed by cats and dogs.

Republicans have a record of wasting political capital on futile gestures, such as telling GOP voters that President


would sign a bill defunding ObamaCare if only the GOP establishment would do . . . something. Now would President Biden sign a balanced budget, if only Kevin McCarthy would do . . . something?

House Republicans have won two years in the majority to show the electorate they can govern better than Democrats and President Biden. They’re getting off to the kind of start that will persuade even their own voters to send them back to the minority in short order.

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.