Last week, members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus weren’t content to oppose the bipartisan budget deal that resolved the Republicans’ debt ceiling crisis. They also raised the specter of punishing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for agreeing to the deal.
But we’re occasionally reminded that a lot can happen in a week. The Hill reported overnight:
A spark of initial interest in forcing a vote to remove Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from his position as Speaker over the debt limit deal he negotiated with President Biden has not caught on in the House Freedom Caucus. ... Multiple members leaving a Freedom Caucus meeting Monday — the first gathering of the group in Washington, D.C., since the debt limit bill passed — said there was no discussion of whether any member should make a motion to vacate the chair, which would force a vote to remove McCarthy.
It was a week ago today when Rep. Dan Bishop became the first House Republican to publicly declare his intention to try to oust McCarthy from his post. Asked specifically if he was prepared to use procedural tactics to force a vote on the speaker’s future, the North Carolina Republican told Politico, “Absolutely. It is inescapable to me. It has to be done.”
As we discussed soon after, he appeared to have some company. Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado broached the subject of McCarthy’s gavel during a House Freedom Caucus conference call, and he told NBC News that he raised the possibility “as a result of a broken promise.”
Rep. Scott Perry, the contingent’s current chair, didn’t explicitly endorse moving against McCarthy, but the Pennsylvanian didn’t rule out the possibility, either.
Rep. Chip Roy didn’t call out McCarthy by name, but the Texan declared at a Capitol Hill press conference, “We will continue to fight it today, tomorrow, and no matter what happens, there’s going to be a reckoning about what just occurred.”
A week later, all of this talk has effectively evaporated. The House speaker is enjoying the best media coverage of his adult life — too much, by my estimation — and his far-right detractors who were gearing up for what would effectively be a no-confidence vote are quietly slinking away.
The problem is not procedural. As we talked about last week, as the current Congress got underway, McCarthy was forced to beg his own members for their support during his protracted fight for the speaker’s gavel. As part of that process, he agreed to tweak the motion-to-vacate-the-chair rules, which at least in theory, would make it easier for angry House Republicans to try to oust McCarthy from his leadership position if he disappointed them.
But what the Freedom Caucus’ members are finding is that while the tool is available, they lack the wherewithal to wield it effectively.
All of this must come as something of a shock to the far-right contingent. Revisiting our earlier coverage, House Freedom Caucus members genuinely seemed to believe they were running the show. They thought their far-right ransom note was their party’s inviolable plan. They thought they had a secret Rules Committee deal that would give them veto power. They thought they’d persuade the rest of the GOP conference to oppose the bill. They thought McCarthy would be afraid of the proverbial motion-to-vacate-the-chair sword hanging overhead.
But as a Washington Post analysis summarized last week, “The right-wing caucus emerges from [the clash over the debt ceiling] looking bruised, hapless and apparently without the leverage it thought it had over McCarthy.”
To be sure, given the House Republicans’ tiny majority, the faction still has the votes to derail future measures as they reach the floor. But that would only put GOP leaders in a position of having to reach out to Democrats for votes — as previous House speakers such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan occasionally had to do — strengthening the hand of Republican opponents.
In other words, the Freedom Caucus lost the year’s biggest fight, can’t find the leverage it thought it had, and has no credible plan to reassert its influence.
This post revises our related earlier coverage.