The tumult in Congress over choosing the next House speaker goes far beyond the radical right’s distrust of Rep. Kevin McCarthy. For all the controversy the far right has generated in recent years, its leaders have correctly identified McCarthy as a chameleon who would promise anything to get the speaker’s job. In Washington politics, that’s hardly new or noteworthy.
But the radicals and McCarthy have made a fundamental miscalculation about what Americans want to see out of this Congress, and therein lies the conundrum that the rest of the House must try to solve regardless of who becomes speaker. The extremely tight margin by which Republicans won control of the House — and failed to win the Senate — on Nov. 8 is not a mandate for hardline Republicans to force a course change. Americans chose this course with Joe Biden’s presidential election in 2020 and reaffirmed it on Nov. 8. The current balance of power is voters’ message to both sides to move to the middle and find ways to compromise.
The nomination speeches for McCarthy by various Republican leaders Tuesday made it sound as if Americans had voted resoundingly for radical change. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, launched into the same kind of political diatribe that Republicans campaigned on before the November election, attacking Democrats and Biden over inflation, immigration and Biden’s “horrible energy policies.” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, added an attack on the recent, bipartisan approval of a $1.7 trillion spending bill.