Over the course of the past week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has come to terms with the scope of his challenge. The California Republican desperately wants to become Speaker of the House, but his party’s majority will be narrow, and his intraparty detractors have the numbers to make McCarthy’s life quite difficult.
It was against this backdrop that McCarthy’s allies reportedly reached out to Rep. Henry Cuellar over the weekend, asking the conservative Democrat to switch parties. The Texan turned them down, though he explained soon after that the Republicans who approached him said, “Name your price.”
With Cuellar, the pitch apparently didn’t work, but the effort raised a related question: How many other members, whose support McCarthy craves, have heard similar “name your price” appeals? And just how high a price is the GOP leader prepared to pay?
Axios reported last week that far-right lawmakers were “already plotting” how to leverage McCarthy’s desperation, looking for “massive concessions.” The New York Times reported overnight on what the incumbent minority leader is now agreeing to.
In a closed-door meeting of Republicans on Monday, right-wing lawmakers including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia extracted a promise that their leaders would investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
One of the more curious developments in recent days has been watching Marjorie Taylor Greene express support for McCarthy, even as Rep. Matt Gaetz — by most measures, one of Greene’s closest political allies — works diligently to derail McCarthy’s leadership bid. It’s led to speculation about what the would-be speaker has given Greene in exchange for her backing.
And now we’re starting to get a sense of the answer.
For those who don’t keep up on the GOP’s reactionary wing, it may be surprising just how much Greene and her allies have invested in Jan. 6. It’s not just that they’re sympathetic to the cause that led to the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, it’s also that they see the rioters as victims.
It’s not uncommon for Republican extremists to demand “Justice for Jan. 6” defendants. It’s an agenda that adherents believe should include investigating congressional leaders and the Justice Department for locking up criminal suspects accused of using violence to overturn election results.
And now, according to the Times’ reporting, McCarthy is prepared to give Greene and her “Justice for Jan. 6” cohorts at least part of what they’re looking for: He can’t open jail cells and let accused criminals go free, but he can agree to the kind of investigations his radical members want to see.
If the reporting is accurate, this is extraordinary, but it also opens the door to a larger concern: What else is McCarthy agreeing to as part of his desperate scramble?