What has changed? As the House reconvenes for a fourth day of wrangling over who will be speaker, the voting records would suggest: not much. Eleven times lawmakers have been asked to pick a speaker and the results have looked more or less the same each time. None of the holdouts have been persuaded by Kevin McCarthy, and neither has any serious alternative to McCarthy emerged. The so-called Never Kevin constituency (which numbers at least four and maybe more) seems as implacable as ever, while McCarthy seems no less determined to do whatever it takes to come out on top.
But this morning brings leaks and gossip of progress in negotiations between McCarthy and those among the holdouts willing to contemplate a deal. Details are murky at the moment but McCarthy certainly appears willing to offer a great deal to his party’s right-wing to get the gavel. Among the concessions reportedly being discussed: a one-member motion to vacate, two House Freedom Caucus seats on the Rules Committee, as well as other coveted committee spots. On a conference call this morning, McCarthy reportedly said there was no deal yet but said things were “in a good position.”
McCarthy must fight on two fronts: he needs the agreement of pretty much every single holdout who hasn’t publicly stated there are no circumstances in which they would back him, but in proving so willing to concede to the hardliners, he risks angering those in the center. How will members set to lose committee assignments to appease the Freedom Caucus react? The risk is that moderates start to wonder why fifteen or so members get a blank check while others are expected to be team players and vote McCarthy no matter what.
Matt Purple calls this standoff “an Alamo, or at least a jarring moment of truth, exposing just how fragile and ineffective the party really is.” The question is whether it serves as a kind of rock bottom for a party that instills discipline and perhaps even leads to some kind of centralization. Or whether this week’s rudderlessness is the new normal, with all the incentives geared towards an unruly bunch getting ever more boisterous. In the short- and medium-term, there isn’t all that much riding on the question. After all, in divided government there’s so much the House needs to do. But Republicans will be watching and thinking of the long-run, asking whether an ungovernable party will be trusted to govern.
Keep the cameras rolling
One advantage of the House impasse is our ability to watch the bedlam from all angles. Because the new Congress cannot do anything until it picks a speaker, the rules that ordinarily restrict the angles from which the House chamber can be filmed are not in effect. The camera operators are having a field day.
I can’t be the only one hoping this all-angles CSPAN free-for-all stays. The original argument for restricting camera angles was to avoid theater and allow lawmakers some degree of privacy to talk to the other side, broker deals and get on with the often unseemly business of legislating. But if that’s the case, the rules clearly haven’t proven especially effective: Congress is more performative and theatrical than ever. Plus, camera restrictions facilitate one of the most absurd pieces of theatre on the Hill: the impassioned speech to an empty room. Far better for voters to see that grandstanding from all angles than fall for the conceit that colleagues are paying attention.
Maybe the camera free-for-all is why Matt Gaetz appears to be loving every minute of it: after all, he grew up in the house where they filmed The Truman Show.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow’s surprise retirement announcement has set up a high-stakes and high-profile contest in a crucial state in 2024. Stabenow, a Democrat, has held the seat since 2001 and Michigan is a place where the party performed well in November. It is also home to several rising Democratic stars. One of them, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, has ruled out running. Others, including Representatives Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell, have not. Democrats face a tough slate of races in 2024, and Stabenow’s announcement hardly makes things easier.
Schlapp accused of sexual misconduct
CPAC leader and American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp has been accused of groping the crotch of a male staffer who worked on Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign. According to the Daily Beast the staffer alleges “sustained and unwanted and unsolicited” sexual contact after driving Schlapp back to his hotel one evening during the midterm campaign. In a video the man claims he filmed immediately after the incident and seen by the Beast, he says: “Matt Schlapp of CPAC grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length, and I’m sitting there thinking what the hell is going on, that this person is literally doing this to me… I’m supposed to pick this motherfucker up in the morning and just pretend like nothing happened. This is what I’m dealing with.” Schlapp denies any improper behavior.
Schlapp emerged as a powerful conservative figure during the Trump presidency. In 2018, he and his wife Mercedes were labelled Washington’s Trump-era “it couple” by the New York Times and were a prominent example of establishment conservatives who embraced Trump’s rise.
What you should be reading today
Matthew Foldi: The Katie Porter scandal everyone is ignoring
Paul de Quenoy: The last time the House couldn’t elect a speaker
Kara Kennedy: Why do today’s politicians dress like slobs?
Jeff Horwitz, Keach Hagey and Emily Glazer, Wall Street Journal: Facebook wanted out of politics. It was messier than anyone expected
Dave Wasserman, Cook Political Report: In the end, redistricting didn’t hurt, and may have helped, Democrats
Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon: The GOP’s future is Florida
President Biden job approval
Approve: 43.5 percent
Disapprove: 51.8 percent
Net approval: -8.3 (RCP Average)
Percentage of Americans who blame Trump or Republicans in Congress for January 6 attack
Trump: 59 percent
Republicans in Congress: 47 percent (Morning Consult)