After McCarthy, here is how to start fixing the House

No matter the circumstance, nobody should accept the speakership without more job security than Mr. McCarthy had.



October 5, 2023 - 5:42 PM

Former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) speaks during a press conference after being removed from the position of speaker on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

“Well, I made history, didn’t I,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy quipped Tuesday after becoming the first speaker of the House voted out of the office. Perhaps the only upside for the nation’s suddenly destabilized legislative branch is that the House of Representatives has a clean slate now; the personal animosities that some lawmakers — including a crucial bloc of his fellow Republicans — hold toward Mr. McCarthy (Calif.) are no longer relevant. And his desperation for the gavel is no longer exploitable. The chamber has a chance to make itself more functional.

Though Mr. McCarthy’s speakership heretofore was hardly distinguished by principled decisions, as opposed to appeasement of his slender majority’s far-right fringe, his downfall ironically came as punishment for a good deed: his surprise weekend decision to shake hands with Democrats on a short-term budget deal, keeping the government open but drawing a leadership challenge from a small number of ultraconservatives. The eight mutinying members of his party, led by Matt Gaetz (Fla.), were angry that Mr. McCarthy committed the apparently unforgivable sin of bridging the partisan divide in the national interest.

It would have taken just a handful of Democrats to keep Mr. McCarthy in the speaker’s chair. But some of Mr. McCarthy’s less praiseworthy actions came back to haunt him. Democrats could not forgive Mr. McCarthy’s groveling before Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a legitimate grievance he aggravated by opening a bogus impeachment inquiry against President Biden. He refused to offer Democrats any concessions in exchange for their help keeping him on as speaker. Instead, Mr. McCarthy claimed on national television that they wanted to shut down the government. More grace, and less partisanship, might have resulted in a different outcome.

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