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Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the US Republican House, but at a cost

Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the US Republican House, but at a cost

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WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives early on Saturday after making significant concessions to right-wing hardliners who have raised questions about the party’s ability to govern.

The 57-year-old Californian suffered the latest humiliation when Rep. Matt Goetz withheld his vote on the 14th ballot as midnight approached, sparking a brawl in which fellow Republican Mike Rogers had to be physically pulled away.

McCarthy’s victory on the 15th ballot ended the worst congressional dysfunction in over 160 years. But clearly illustrates the difficulties he will face in leading a narrow and deeply polarized majority.

He finally won by a margin of 216-212. He managed to get elected with the votes of less than half the members of the House only because six of his own party abstained – not supporting McCarthy as leader, but also not voting for another challenger.

When he first took the gavel, McCarthy represented the end of President Joe Biden’s Democratic hold on both houses of Congress.

“Our system is built on checks and balances. It’s time for us to be a check and provide some balance to the president’s policies,” McCarthy said in his inaugural address, which laid out a wide range of priorities from spending cuts to immigration to fighting culture wars.

McCarthy was elected only after agreeing to the hardliners’ demand that any lawmaker be able to ask for his removal at any time. That would sharply reduce the power he will wield when trying to legislate on critical issues, including funding the government, dealing with the nation’s looming debt ceiling and other crises that may arise.

Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in November’s midterm elections left them with a narrow 222-212 majority, giving enormous power to the right who opposed McCarthy’s leadership.

Those concessions, including sharp spending cuts and other limits on McCarthy’s powers, could point to further turmoil in the coming months, especially when Congress will have to sign off on a further increase in the United States’ borrowing authority from 31 .4 trillion dollars.

Over the past decade, Republicans have repeatedly shut down much of the government and pushed the world’s largest borrower to the brink of default in efforts to push through steep spending cuts, usually without success.

A few of hardliners questioned McCarthy’s willingness to engage in such a standoff when negotiating with Biden, whose Democrats control the Senate. They have raged in the past when Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, agreed to compromise deals.

Hardliners, including Libertarian Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Chip Roy of Texas, said the concessions they wrested from McCarthy would make it easier to implement such tactics — or force another vote on McCarthy’s leadership if he doesn’t. meet their expectations.

“You have changes in the way we’re going to spend and allocate money that are going to be historic,” Perry said.

“We don’t want clean debt ceilings to just go through and just continue to pay the bill without countering efforts to control spending when Democrats control the White House and control the Senate.”

One of those Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, warned that the concessions McCarthy made to “extremists” in his party could come back to haunt him, and made it more likely that the Republican-controlled House would bring to a government shutdown or bankruptcy with “devastating consequences”.

In stark contrast to the battles between House Republicans, Biden and McConnell appeared together in Kentucky on Wednesday to highlight infrastructure investment.

McCarthy’s belated victory came a day after the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, when a violent mob stormed Congress in an attempt to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s election loss.

The 14 failed ballots this week marked the largest number of ballots for the presidency since 1859, in the tumultuous years before the Civil War.

McCarthy’s last bid for speaker in 2015 failed in the face of right-wing opposition. The two previous Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, left the post after falling out with right-wing colleagues.

McCarthy now has the power to block Biden’s legislative agenda, force a vote on Republican priorities on the economy, energy and immigration, and continue investigations into Biden, his administration and his family.


But the concessions he accepted mean McCarthy will wield significantly less power than his predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. That will make it harder for him to agree to deals with Democrats in a divided Washington.

Allowing one member to call for a vote to remove the speaker would give hardliners extraordinary power.

The agreement would cap spending for the next fiscal year at last year’s levels — a significant reduction when inflation and population growth are taken into account.

That could face resistance from more centrist Republicans or those pushing for more military funding, especially as the United States spends billions of dollars to help Ukraine repel a Russian attack.

Moderate Republican Brian Fitzpatrick said he’s not worried about the House effectively being run by hardliners.

“It’s ambitious,” he told reporters. “We still have our voting cards.”

Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery, Jason Lange and Makini Brice, writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman, William Mallard and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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